Tiger Woods' demise greatly exaggerated
"What an incredible Cinderella story, this unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack ..."
Those, of course, are the famous words of Carl Spackler, as played by Bill Murray in the golf epic "Caddyshack." You and your golfing buddies aren't the only ones who know those words verbatim, either.
"It's my favorite movie hands down," said D.A. Points, Murray's partner at Pebble Beach this week. "It was a challenge to not recite lines, because obviously he hears it everywhere he goes. But he did give us a couple of nice ones."
None were nicer than those about the Cinderella story. More than three decades after the film was produced, they rang truer than ever, as Murray teamed with Points to claim the pro-am portion of the proceedings.
While the Weekly 18 will delve into all things Spackler -- er, Murray -- let's first start with a guy who once played him in a television commercial. It was hardly a Cinderella story for Tiger Woods this week, but the good news is, we shouldn't read too much into how he fared.
So he's got that going for him ... which is nice.
1. The Waiting Game
Golf is a game of patience. Think about it: The actual combined time to hit every shot in a round might not surpass more than a minute or two. But of course, the game isn't played that way. There's the walking ... and the strategizing ... and the waiting ... and the waiting ... and the waiting ...
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And yet, when it comes to proffering opinions on some of the game's biggest stars, it appears patience is a virtue of the past and waiting is a game played by very few.
In what has become a recurring theme in his past few tournaments, Tiger Woods displayed stretches of both terrific golf this past week in Dubai and extremely poor golf. There was a heaping portion of the latter on Sunday, when he posted a 3-over 75 to drop from one stroke off the lead through 54 holes to a share of 20th place when it was over.
Is this a red flag that his game isn't where it needs to be? Yes. Does it insinuate that his swing, short game and confidence level all need some major improvements in the very near future? Absolutely. Does it portend greater struggles for him over the long term? No way.
Certainly the guy is going through a rough patch with his game right now, but it's hardly a determinant of his impending future.
I feel like I'm in the minority, though. In the Age of Twitter, our need-it-now society often celebrates success or decries failure well before the journey has been completed. In the case of Woods, it seems like when he hits a solid shot, he's "back;" when he misses poorly, he's "done." No longer is the wait-and-see approach proper strategy, since opinions can change at a moment's notice anyway.
It doesn't help that most have selective memory when it comes to Tiger. His dominance is often recalled, but let's remember: He never won every event, never even won more than he lost. Yes, he prevailed by 15 strokes at the 2000 U.S. Open and 8 one month later at the Open Championship. If your contention is that he will never again be the same player who triumphed by so many at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, you're right. That said, there's a great chance that nobody will ever dominate in that manner, so making such a proclamation isn't exactly going out on the weakest limb.
Those who claim he will never win a major championship would be wise to remember that Jack Nicklaus remained stuck on 14 for nearly three full years before eventually adding four more titles to reach his now-legendary total of 18.
It's not just Woods, though. Following weekend scores of 75-74 after claiming an early lead, Rory McIlroy has dissenters, too. While I'll be the first to point out that his two career victories came from way in front and way behind and that he's struggled to prove he can close, I'll also be the first to contend that at 21 years old it would be ignorant to make any gross presumptions about his future status as a winner based solely on recent history.
And then there's Sergio Garcia. Golf fans' favorite whipping boy surprisingly climbed the leaderboard in Dubai, only to unsurprisingly falter, posting a 3-over 75 while paired with Woods in the final round. Though he hasn't won a title anywhere since 2008, it's easy to forget that this is a player who won 18 times worldwide before turning 30. I maintain that his recent performance is more an indication of upcoming resurgence than prolonged indifference, but I'm willing to show a little patience and wait to see the end of this story.
These things go both ways, too. If you're attempting to project the end of the Tiger era, dispel overinflated opinions of Rory and predict the continued downward spiral of Sergio based on the weekend in Dubai, you must also praise winner Alvaro Quiros as the next elite player, runners-up James Kingston and Anders Hansen as dogged competitors and weekend mover Alvaro Velasco as a brilliant up-and-coming talent.
While those assessments might not be completely invalid, it would be unwise to make such rash declarations after one tournament, just as it is unwise to downgrade Woods, McIlroy and Garcia based solely on their imperfect results.
Golf is cyclical in nature. The best players understand how to ride the highs and limit the lows, ensuring more top performances than their fellow competitors. Every player endures those lows, though, whether it means for an uncharacteristically prolonged period like Woods, quixotically only in final rounds like McIlroy or even seemingly for years like Garcia.
There's recent precedence here, too. World No. 1 Lee Westwood and fellow top-10 player Steve Stricker both had extended stretches during their careers when they simply couldn't compete at the level necessary to be an elite golfer. At those times, each was probably considered "done" by many observers, but those who practiced patience have witnessed the value of such an exercise.
Feel free to give up on Woods now, contending he'll never be a top-flight player again. Call McIlroy simply a final-round flake and Garcia a coulda-been who became a never-was. You might be proven right someday. Or maybe -- just maybe -- those who wait for good things to come from this trio will be rewarded for such diligence in due time.
2. D.A. Points and Bill Murray
I've never written the following sentence before, so indulge me for a minute here: Bill Murray won at Pebble Beach on Sunday.
See, it just looks weird. Like it's waiting for a punch line about a different Bill Murray or some movie scene.
But, no. The real Bill Murray is now a real winner of the famed Clambake, teaming with individual champion Points to claim his first career title.
I spoke with Murray shortly after the victory and while the funnyman did throw in a few yuks, what really struck me was how humbled he was by winning the tournament.
"It's kind of dreamy," the 12-handicap told me. "Even though it's not like I made the putt to win, I was certainly the part of it. I was just sort of carried along in the wake of it.
"It's one of the few things I ever really wanted. I really wanted this. I haven't won at much else."
You could say the same thing for Points. Despite four career Nationwide Tour wins and two consecutive seasons in the top 100 on the money list in the big leagues, he had never before finished better than third place. With Murray in tow, he posted scores of 63-70-71 on the rotation of courses before a final-round 5-under 67 vaulted him to a two-shot victory over Hunter Mahan.
"It's been pretty much one of the most amazing weeks of my life," Points told me afterward. "[Murray] invites me to play at Cypress on Wednesday, which we did right until sunset -- it was amazing. Thursday was my daughter's first birthday and I had a good opening round. And then to finish it all with a win on Sunday? It's just been an amazing week."
The fact Points also won the individual title made the team victory all the sweeter for Murray, too.
"That's everything," he said. "I think that certainly makes the celebration even-handed. If I had won and he came in second, he'd probably go home early. Now we can look each other in the eyes and be fine."
3. Yani Tseng
I spoke with Tseng in early December -- just a little more than two months ago -- and at one point in our conversation, the subject of becoming No. 1 in the world was broached.
Then ranked fifth on the heels of a season in which she was named LPGA Player of the Year thanks to two major victories, she discussed the difficulty of such an ascendance.
"I think it's going to be hard at the beginning of next year," Tseng said. "Everyone is still working so hard for this. I feel like it's going to change a little bit."
Well, she was half right.
Even though the LPGA season has yet to debut, there has already been a change atop the Rolex Rankings. And while it might not have been easy, it sure didn't look hard for Tseng, who claimed back-to-back titles over the past two weeks to pass Jiyai Shin for the honor.
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"It is so soon," Tseng said after winning the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters on Sunday. "I wasn't expecting it as quickly as this. I still have another 10 months to go. I just need to be very patient and keep working hard. I still have a lot of things to learn, too."
Now that she's No. 1, don't expect Tseng to relinquish the title anytime soon. In that conversation we had in December, I asked whether it's beneficial for women's golf to have a rotating door of top-ranked players or just one who solidified that position and remained there for a while.
"I don't know," she said with a laugh.
Then she got serious.
"If I can hold it for a long time, I think that would be a good thing."
If that's the case, good things may now be coming.
4. Ted Potter Jr.
While his name might not ring a bell to most golf fans, mention Potter to those in golf's inner circle and they'll likely recall his series of ups and downs while bouncing between golf's version of the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Here's the abridged story: He eschewed college and turned pro at 19; in 2003, earned his Nationwide Tour card through Q-school at 20; in 2004, missed the cut in all 24 starts on the developmental circuit; in 2005, earned player of the year honors on the Hooters Tour; in 2006, again claimed Nationwide playing privileges through Q-school; in 2007, made only three cuts in 20 starts on that tour; in 2009, again won the Hooters POY award; and in 2010, played a limited Nationwide schedule, making just three cuts in 11 starts.
It's almost like he's in golf purgatory. Too good for Double-A ball, not good enough for Triple-A.
What's more likely, though, is that he just needed a little more seasoning on the mini-tours.
Playing again on the Hooters circuit, Potter has captured two straight titles -- the most recent coming on Thursday, when the burly left-hander birdied the final two holes to force a playoff, then sank an 18-foot eagle putt on the first extra hole to claim the victory.
"I've been practicing a lot and trying to get ready," Potter told me afterward. "It's finally starting to come around and it's getting better. The putting is the biggest thing. It's been holding me back, but it's getting better."
Another thing helping Potter -- believe it or not -- is his past. He decided to forgo college because, "I didn't want to do that; I just wanted to play professional golf," and while the short-term results were cringe-worthy, he believes the experience has helped him gain perspective as a player.
"There was a lot of stuff I had to learn," he said. "That first year was rough on me, but I got some good experience. When you have a rough patch, you try to learn from it and build from it. I don't regret what happened. You're going to have good days and bad days. I think it helped my game in the long run."
Six weeks ago, he was the de facto darling of the season opener.
Even though Garrigus lost to Jonathan Byrd in a playoff at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the big hitter performed well during the week, displaying his enviable talents throughout Kapalua.
On Sunday, just five shots off the AT&T lead going into the final round, he was forced to withdraw -- and it wasn't because of some nagging injury.
No, it was much scarier than that. Garrigus withdrew due to a bout with high blood pressure.
The good news, though, is that later in the day he relayed the information that he was doing much better.
"Well I feel fine now but I defiantly [sic] was in no shape to play golf this morning but I should be good for la thanks for all the well wishes!" he tweeted.
Garrigus, who was ninth on the money list entering the week, will receive last-place earnings.
6. Theft at Spyglass
Strange but true story relayed to me by PGA Tour veteran Kris Blanks this week.
Prior to his opening round at Spyglass, Blanks used the facilities in the locker room, but a few minutes later realized he had left his cellular phone inside. Already warming up on the driving range, he sent his caddie, A.J. Eathorne, inside for the phone -- only to find out it was gone.
So before they teed off, Blanks and Eathorne went to the pro shop to report the missing phone. It was then that the story really got strange.
Blanks had the idea for his caddie to call the phone. When she did, he heard his ringtone -- the Jamie Foxx anthem "Winner," featuring Justin Timberlake and T.I., if you must know -- playing in the front of the shop. When he realized it was emanating from a security guard, he questioned whether the employee had the phone.
The security guard assured him that he simply had the same ringtone. So Blanks had Eathorne call the phone again -- and again it started ringing. It was then that the man fessed up, pulling the purloined phone from his sock and handing it over to the pro.
That's some pretty good sleuthing by Blanks, putting the "spy" in Spyglass before posting a first-round 2-under 70 on the course.
Following his opening-round 81 on Monterey Peninsula Country Club, the rookie withdrew from the remainder of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
It didn't take long to find out why.
He tweeted: "Hate to WD from AT&T and Northern Trust next week but my back is not in a good place..disc issues since October. Needs to get reevaluated."
That's bad news for a guy who had a 58th-place finish and three missed cuts in four starts prior to Pebble. Back injuries are nothing to sneeze at -- in fact, with disc issues he might not want to sneeze at all -- but they can be especially problematic for a tall, athletic 23-year-old with a seemingly very bright future.
But there's good news, too. As last year's leading money-winner on the Nationwide Tour, Lovemark is exempt from all in-season reshuffles. That means a lingering injury is less painful -- figuratively, at least -- to him than it would be to any other rookie, as he won't have as much trouble getting into events when he's ready to tee it up once again.
8. I wish the Challenge Tour schedule made sense.
So, you think the LPGA has some inconsistencies in its schedule with so many bye weeks? Check out the Challenge Tour.
I randomly clicked on the 2011 schedule for the European Tour's developmental circuit -- its equivalent of the Nationwide Tour -- this week and found the strangest start to the season I've ever seen.
The tour's campaign began with the Gujarat Kensville Challenge from Jan. 13-16, won by Gaganjeet (Ferris) Bhullar. However, it is now in the midst of a seven -- yes, seven! -- week dark period before the second tournament of the season.
Momentum, anyone? Bhullar? Bhullar? Bhullar?
Hey, on the bright side, at least the extended break gives players plenty of time to travel from India to Colombia, site of its next tourney.
But that's not the only foreseeable issue with the Challenge Tour schedule. Its penultimate event -- just prior to the Challenge Tour Grand Final in early November -- happens to be the Egyptian Open, slated for Oct. 19-22 at a yet-to-be-decided venue.
This event made headlines last year for its inclusion of Rory McIlroy in the field, as he dropped a level to play by the pyramids, somehow only finishing in a share of 12th place.
This year, though, it could make news of a different nature -- if it ever goes off as planned. Even with president Hosni Mubarak stepping down recently, considering the current state of civil unrest in the country, it can't be likely that a professional golf tournament will be contested, especially if the tour cares about the well being of its constituency.
And if it doesn't, well, that probably just means another bye week for the Challenge Tour membership. They should be used to it by then.
9. I wish it made sense for Lee Westwood to be awarded Honorary Life Membership on the European Tour.
The game's No. 1-ranked player received the award last Tuesday in Dubai. OK, so that takes care of the who, what, when and where, but I still have one more question.
It's not as if Westwood was in danger of losing his status soon and the Euro Tour swooped in and saved him the embarrassment of registering for Q-school. Instead, the honor is, well, "honorary" -- just as the title states. It carries no extra playing privileges and doesn't mean that a player can tee it up at sanctioned events in perpetuity.
In the past, it's almost exclusively gone to members who have won majors or players who are no longer in their primes. Case in point: Last year, four players received this upgrade; 2010 major champions Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, plus five-time Open Championship winner Tom Watson.
So why bestow the award upon Westwood now? Euro Tour chief executive George O'Grady suggested that the honor came from Westwood's loyalty toward the Euro circuit for so many years.
In other words: Lee, thanks for not chasing the big bucks in America once you became No. 1 in the world. In return, here's a grandiose gesture in your honor!
Much like the Euro Tour, the PGA Tour has a lifetime membership designation, too. Rather than voted on by a committee, however, it is simply bestowed upon players who have won 20 career titles.
I'm not saying one method is better than the other. Just that it seems awfully coincidental that Westwood's surge to the top of the ranking and defiance of the U.S. tour were so closely followed by his newfound honorary membership.
10. I wish there was an easy solution to phoned-in rules violations.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced this week that he would not put an end to television viewers being able to phone in rules violations. Based on his track record, the only surprise here is that he hasn't yet gotten these calls sponsored by AT&T.
Even if he wanted to, abolishing the phone-a-fiends remains a slippery slope. Look at it this way: If TV viewers can't point out violations, then what about on-course ticket-holders? Or marshals? Journalists? Official scorers? Caddies?
At the heart of the issue has always been making the correct call -- no pun intended -- when a player doesn't realize his own infraction. Officials and competitors alike have always maintained that being right is more important than how the process came about.
There's been a groundswell of support lately for the idea that I've often stated here in the W18; namely, if a player is found to have committed a rules violation after signing the scorecard, the proper penalty would be assessed rather than a disqualification.
For those who don't see the value of phoned-in corrections, your viewpoint isn't incorrect. Finding an alternative solution, though, is easier talked about than implemented.
11. Stat of the week
Suzann Pettersen's 2010 runner-ups
|Event||Place Before Final Rd.||Final Rd. Score||Result|
|Honda LPGA Thailand||Led by 5||70||Lost by 1|
|Kraft Nabisco Champ.||Trailed by 1||69||Lost by 1|
|Bell Micro LPGA Classic||Trailed by 3||65||Lost in playoff|
|U.S. Women's Open||Trailed by 4||69||Lost by 4|
|Canadian Women's Open||Trailed by 4||69||Lost by 3|
|Lorena Ochoa Invitational||Led by 1||68||Lost by 3|
Suzann Pettersen is coming off a no-win, six runner-up season.
Depending on how you look at it, last year was either wildly frustrating for Pettersen or consistently satisfying. OK, maybe a little of both.
This week, she "defends" one of those runner-up finishes at the season-opening Honda LPGA Thailand, where last year she was lapped in the final round by Ai Miyazato, who carded a 63 to clinch a come-from-behind win.
In fact, that became a recurring theme for Pettersen: Get into contention, play well in the final round, but still lose to one other player.
Check out the chart to the left. In these half-dozen instances -- two of which she led entering the final round; four others she trailed -- Pettersen posted a scoring average of 68.33, never shooting a score higher than 70.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
12. Sobel: Quiros clearly on the rise
13. Photo of the Week
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Individual victory? Check. Team victory? Check. Perfectly executed chest bump after hole-out for eagle? Uh, not so much for D.A. Points, left, and actor Bill Murray.
14. Tweets of the Week
@Matt_Every Tried my hardest to miss the cut but was not successful
@PaulGoydosPGA I Stink!!! On to LA
PGA Tour: These guys are ... self-deprecating.
15. Fact or Fiction
Tiger Woods should be playing his hometown event in Los Angeles this week.
It was back in 1992 -- at the tender age of 16 -- when Woods was given his initial PGA Tour start, a sponsor's exemption into what was then the Nissan Los Angeles Open. He shot 72-75 that week to miss the cut, but returned one year later and again in 1997 -- his first full professional season -- finishing T-20 just a few weeks before winning the Masters.
In addition to making his PGA Tour debut at Riviera, Woods is known for two other things when it comes to this tournament: Never winning in 11 career appearances and never playing again following a withdrawal due to the flu five years ago.
That includes this week, too, as Tiger has chosen to take a week off in between playing the Dubai Desert Classic and competing in next week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
It would be difficult to find many golf fans who wished against Woods' return to what is now known as the Northern Trust Open. That's not the issue at hand, though. The question I've posed is whether he should play there again.
It's easy for journalists and fans to call for the world's best golfers to play more events and diversify their schedules from year to year. Consider it either selfishness or hopefulness, but we'd all like to see stronger fields on a week-to-week basis.
That said, I learned long ago that saying a player should compete in certain events is to disregard anything else in his life. There are very few times I'd disagree with this statement; maybe when Kenny Perry skipped the Open Championship a few years back (if you make that one, you go -- no questions asked) or when Anthony Kim skipped his hometown Bob Hope Classic last month (he stayed in the area, but didn't tee it up).
As far as Woods is concerned, even with private air travel from Dubai to Los Angeles to Tucson, competing for three straight weeks can be a grueling schedule. Yes, at the end of the day he is still playing golf for a living, but with the heavy expectations placed upon him, doesn't he owe it to himself to be best prepared to win every single event?
We tend to criticize the game's top players for not competing enough, yet when they don't perform up to standards and appear burnt out, we also criticize them for playing too much. Well, we can't have it both ways. That's why -- even though I'm among the majority that would like to see Woods back on his old stomping grounds at Riviera -- I consider the above statement to be FICTION.
16. Road to Augusta
Even though Spackler was a groundskeeper, he must have picked up a few tricks at Bushwood CC, right? So I asked Murray whether he would consider looping for D.A. Points at Augusta this April -- even if it's just in the Par-3 Contest.
"That's a good idea," he said. "Thanks for bringing it up. It's possible ... but even if he could just slip me a ticket, that would be sweet."
I thought I'd initiated a caddie connection when I spoke to Points a few minutes later, but no such luck, it seems.
"Oh, gosh. That's certainly not a bad idea. My daughter won't be old enough, so she can't do it," he said. "But I think I might have my mom or dad do it. I hadn't really thought about it, but I think they'd get a kick out of being there."
As far as the actual tournament itself, Points will get a kick out of it, too. Not only will this be his first Masters as a competitor, he's never even played the course before.
"In the offseason, I worked with a new sports psychologist and my three main goals were to win in 2011, to play in the 2011 Masters and to play on the 2012 Ryder Cup team," he said. "It's in Illinois, at Medinah where all my friends are, and where I've spent a lot of time. So far I've completed two of the three, which I'm super excited about.
"To play in the Masters is another dream come true. I can hardly describe it."
17. On the Hot Seat: Rosie Jones
Two years ago, the United States defeated Europe 16-12 on home soil at the Solheim Cup.
This year's edition of the event will take place Sept. 23-25 at Killeen Castle in Ireland.
At the helm for the U.S. squad is seven-time team member Rosie Jones, who sat down to talk about emotions, team camaraderie and her role as captain.
Q: We're seven months from the start of the Solheim Cup. So far, is it more work than you had imagined?
A: You know what? I really didn't know what to expect. Having played on several Solheim Cup teams, you show up in your room and there's all these clothes and gifts, your captain tells you when to practice, the hotel is already scheduled, everything else is pre-planned. What you don't realize is how much influence the captain has over that. So there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that players don't even realize.
As we get closer, it will be more about the strategy of the event and figuring out the players. But it is a lot different than I thought it would be.
Q: How often are you going to be out on tour, talking to players and getting a feel for your team?
A: Last year, I was out at about four events. I held a couple of dinners with several players, just trying to be around them and watching them play a little bit, just hanging out with them, trying to nurture those relationships. That was a big priority of mine. This year, I think I've scheduled six events. We'll also have some practice sessions scheduled, some dinners -- quite a bit, I think.
Q: How different is it to play this competition overseas than in the U.S.?
A: Well, the big disadvantage is the amount of fans they're going to have over there. The whole mojo of having that adrenaline through the fan base is huge. The course that we're playing over there is a Nicklaus design that's only about 4-5 years old. And it's probably not much different from what we play here on tour quite a bit.
So I think our players are going to be pretty comfortable on that golf course; it's not a links course, so that part is less of a disadvantage and sort of plays into our comfort zone.
Q: At the last Solheim Cup, some of the U.S. players were criticized for being too emotional, even boisterous at times. What's your response to that? Are you going to encourage that or would you rather see the players keep their emotions in check?
A: This is one of those tournaments where showing your passion is a plus. Players don't tend to show their passion as much in regular LPGA events. The Solheim Cup ignites that passion and I'm not going to pull back on any reins, that's for sure.
If there's an instance where I felt like something was uncalled for, I'd bring it up, but I'm not going to be pre-warning my players to bring it down a notch, that's for sure. We're going over there to win and we need as much spunk as we can get.
18. And The Winner Is ...
As the two-time defending champion at Pebble Beach, Dustin Johnson was all the rage entering the last tournament in search of a threepeat.
Instead, he failed to break 70 in any single round and finished in a share of 55th place. On the surface, it might appear his lace-it-and-chase-it brand of golf might not suit a ball-striker's paradise like Riviera, but DJ is more than simply a big bomber. He ranks 17th on the PGA Tour this season in greens in regulation percentage and with some shorter holes at the erstwhile L.A. Open, he can throttle back and focus on hitting fairways with a 3-wood more often.
Don't believe it? Just check last year's results, as he posted 64-67-66 in three of the rounds, only falling off the pace with a third-round 74 that eventually left him in a share of fourth place at the end of the week.