Major questions about Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and more with Masters one month away
It’s hard to believe it has nearly been 365 days since Tiger Woods stunned the golf world by winning his fifth green jacket at the Masters.
The 84th edition of the Masters, the first major championship of the PGA Tour season, is only one month away.
There’s much uncertainty, starting with the defending champion. Woods’ aching back, which was a question mark a year ago, is once again a concern. So is Brooks Koepka’s game after knee surgery, and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
Here’s everything you need to know 30 days from the 2020 Masters:
Uncertainty and Tiger Woods
The Masters is only one month away, and defending champion Tiger Woodshasn’t played competitive golf in nearly as long.
Woods, 44, will skip the Players Championship this week after missing the WGC-Mexico Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, as well. He complained of back stiffness in mid-February at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, where he finished last among players who made the cut.
His agent, Mark Steinberg, told ESPN in a text message on Friday that Woods’ back is “not concerning long term, just not ready.”
In a Twitter post on Friday, Woods wrote: “I have to listen to my body and properly rest when needed. My back is simply just not ready for play next week. I’m sad to miss one of the best events of the season, OUR championship.”
So what’s next for the 15-time majors champion? Even if his back is ready, will his game be ready if he can’t play in the upcoming Valspar Championship or WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship?
It’s hard to imagine Woods not being back at Augusta National on April 9-12 to defend his Masters title. A year ago, he captivated the world when he came from behind to win there, after waiting 14 years to win his fifth green jacket. He became the second-oldest man to win the Masters, at 43 years, 3 months and 15 days old.
Another win at Augusta this year would tie him with Jack Nicklaus for the most Masters victories with six.
“It’s been incredible for myself and my family to be a part of this and for me to be the current Masters champion,” Woods told reporters in a teleconference last month. “It’s crazy that somehow it all came together for one week, one magical week.”
As magical as those 72 holes were a year ago, golf fans were also left wondering whether Sunday at Augusta in 2019 was a fitting end and the final crowning achievement to golf’s most legendary career.
After four back surgeries and another knee surgery in August, would Woods’ body allow him to continue contending at major championships? After winning the Masters, he missed cuts at the PGA Championship and Open Championship and withdrew from the Northern Trust.
After his fourth knee surgery, he unexpectedly won the Zozo Championship in Japan in October and went 3-0 at the Presidents Cup in December. He tied for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in his first event of 2020, and everything seemed fine until he suffered back stiffness at the Genesis.
While downplaying the injury at the Genesis, Woods said his plan was “to peak around Augusta time.”
Augusta time is almost here, and there are still plenty of questions when it comes to Woods.
Can Brooks Koepka find his game?
Woods isn’t the only golfer with big questions only a month from the Masters. Koepka, who only a year ago became the first player to hold back-to-back titles in two majors (PGA Championship and U.S. Open) simultaneously, all of the sudden can’t crack the top 40 at a tournament.
Koepka, who played with a painful knee injury for much of last season, hasn’t done much of anything since the end of the 2018-19 season. He missed the cut at the Shriners, withdrew from the CJ Cup, tied for 43rd at the Genesis and then missed the cut at the Honda Classic.
This past weekend, he carded a career-worst 9-over 81 in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational (followed by a 71 on Sunday). He finished 9 over, good for a tie for 47th.
“Still s—. Still s—. Putting better,” Koepka told reporters on Sunday at Bay Hill.
Koepka said he feels better about his putting, but his swing is still too inconsistent.
Koepka, 29, plans to play five straight weeks, with upcoming starts at the Players Championship, Valspar Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, before taking a week off before the Masters.
“To tell you the truth, I mean, I would never play more than three weeks in a row,” Koepka said. “But, obviously, sometimes things happen, and the only way I see getting through this is playing. That’s my way of trying to grind and work it out and figure it out.
“I mean, every year we have come — I don’t know how far back, to 2016 — all the way through the Match Play has been terrible. So I don’t know what it is about these first three months of the year, but I struggle quite a bit.”
Could you imagine a Masters without thousands of patrons surrounding the greens and lining the fairways of Augusta National Golf Club?
Hopefully, it won’t come to that, but Augusta National officials are monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and consulting the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, Georgia Department of Public Health and other local authorities.
In a memo released by Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley last week, the club said the “safety, health and well-being of everyone is our top priority.”
“As a result of this collaboration, and based upon our knowledge of the situation at this time, we are proceeding as scheduled for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals and the Masters Tournament,” the letter said. “We will continue to review the available facts and information with the experts and authorities, establish precautions and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of all involved.”
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur is scheduled for April 1-4, and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals are set for April 5.
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Tiger and the Masters victory even he never saw coming
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Before Jack Nicklaus authored the most iconic moment in Masters history, when he charged back from 4 shots down and shot 6-under 30 on the second nine to win his sixth green jacket in 1986, he was considered nothing more than a long shot at age 46.
Nicklaus arrived at Augusta National Golf Club that season having missed the cut in three of seven tournaments and withdrawing from another. He was 160th on the PGA money list. He hadn’t won a major in six years. He hadn’t won the Masters in 11.
While Tiger Woods might be three years younger than Nicklaus was 33 years ago, and while he hasn’t yet reached the same golden age as the Golden Bear in 1986 because of improved technology and the marvels of medicine, what he accomplished in the 83rd edition of the Masters on Sunday is every bit as remarkable.
For the first time in his career, Woods came from behind to win a major championship. He started Sunday’s final round trailing Italy’s Francesco Molinari by 2 shots, and sat 3 behind after 11, but chased the reigning Open champion down with a 2-under 70.
Woods won the Masters for the fifth time — second to only Nicklaus’ six titles — and claimed his 15th major championship, which trails only Nicklaus’ 18.
Woods also became the second-oldest man to win a green jacket at 43 years, 3 months and 15 days. Nicklaus was the oldest Masters champion at 46 years, 2 months and 23 days.
Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 21 and less than a year after he turned pro, Woods became the youngest Masters champion, winning the 1997 tournament by a staggering 12 strokes. He won his second Masters at 25, his third at 26 and his fourth at 29.
Woods waited 14 years to win his fifth, the longest gap between green jackets in Masters history. The last one might have been the most extraordinary achievement in his most extraordinary career.
Yes, Woods is ranked 12th in the Official World Golf Rankings. Yes, he won the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta in September, was runner-up at the PGA Championship in August and tied for sixth at The Open in July.
Yes, Woods was among the betting favorites this week. He’s always a factor at Augusta National, where the club lengthened half of the holes to “Tiger-proof” the course after his 2001 victory.
In an effort to keep Woods from continuing to dominate the most fabled golf course in the world, Masters officials moved back tees. They added trees to the sides of fairways to make them narrower. They watered greens less to make them firmer and less receptive.
Woods was a very young man in 1997. Now, the most famous golfer in the world is battling time and decline, just like Nicklaus did more than three decades ago.
To truly appreciate what Woods did on Sunday, you have to consider where he was two years ago.
In April 2017, Woods’ career was in jeopardy because of a debilitating back injury. Before Woods arrived at Augusta National to take his seat at the champions dinner, he needed a nerve block to endure sitting in a chair.
Immediately after the dinner, Woods flew to London to meet with specialists, who recommended spinal fusion surgery to alleviate back spasms and pain and discomfort in his leg. He had surgery in Texas later that month, the fourth back surgery of his career.
Some of his problems have been self-inflicted. On May 29, 2017, Woods was arrested on DUI charges near his home in Jupiter Island, Florida. Officers found him asleep in his car. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving and entered a treatment program. That incident followed a very public divorce in 2010 from his wife, Elin Nordegren, which revealed details of his infidelity.
“It was not a fun time,” Woods said earlier this week, after receiving the Ben Hogan Award, given to the comeback player of the year, at the Golf Writers Association of America dinner in Augusta. “It was a tough couple of years there. But I was able to start to walk again. I was able to participate in life.
“I was able to be around my kids again and go to their games and practices and take them to school again. These are all things I couldn’t do for a very long time.”
Woods faced months of rehabilitation and recovery. He didn’t play golf competitively for months. The first time he hit a driver again, it went 90 yards. He was afraid to take a swing. He had to rebuild his game from scratch.
“Golf was not in my near future or even the distant future,” Woods said. “I knew that I was going to be a part of the game, but play the game again, I couldn’t even do that with my son Charlie. I couldn’t even putt in the backyard.”
By December 2017, the player who spent a staggering 281 consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 in the world was ranked 1,199th.
While others might have wondered whether Nicklaus was finished when he won his last green jacket, even Woods questioned whether his professional career was over.
“I was done,” Woods said.
Now, two years later, Woods is a Masters champion again. The 14-year gap between his 2005 victory at Augusta National and the title on Sunday is the longest in Masters history. Gary Player went 13 years between winning green jackets in 1961 and 1974.
Before Sunday, Woods hadn’t won a major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — a span of 3,954 days. It’s the fifth-longest drought in majors history. He had gone 0-for-28 in majors he had played since then.
Since Woods previously won the Masters in 2005, 55 majors had been played and 35 different players — including 32 first-timers — had won. It seemed that younger players like Molinari, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spiethand Rory McIlroy had evened the playing field or even surpassed him.
In his younger years, Woods routinely outdrove opponents by 30 or 40 yards. At the Masters, it might not have mattered if he was teeing off from the Kroger parking lot across Washington Road. Compared to Woods, it seemed as if everyone else was playing with hickory shafts.
This week, Woods didn’t even rank among the top 40 players in driving distance. He relied on his course knowledge, iron play and short game to come out on top. He was No. 1 in greens in regulation and ranked in the top 15 in putting.
For four days in Augusta, Woods played like a champion again. And his play resembled the great Masters champions before him.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a man that had as much talent,” said Player, a three-time Masters champion. “He had his difficulties to encounter, and I always said if Tiger never had the problems he had, which were numerous, he would have won at least 20, 21 majors. I don’t think there’s a debate about that. I don’t think anybody would ever deny that.”
The question now is whether the most talented golfer in history can become the greatest player in history. Nicklaus never won another major on the PGA Tour after winning the Masters for the final time.
Was Sunday also Woods’ final crowning achievement, or is there more to come?
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Tiger Woods reflects on fast rounds, long-lasting impact of George H.W. Bush
NASSAU, Bahamas — Known for his proclivity to play golf fast if not well, George H.W. Bush would not slow down the pursuit of an 18-hole round just because he was in the company of Tiger Woods.
On a visit to Bush’s hometown of Houston years ago to work with instructor Butch Harmon, Woods had the occasion to play with the 41st president of the United States. And as tributes poured in after Bush died at age 94 on Friday, Woods chuckled at the memory of their speedy round.
“It was one of those very quick ones,” Woods said at the Hero World Challenge on Saturday. “Eighteen holes in probably under two and a half hours. I met him on numerous occasions. He was fantastic to be around. He was just one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around. So down-to-earth.”
Bush was a big contributor to golf, especially after leaving the White House in 1993. He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011 through the Lifetime Achievement category. The United States Golf Association bestowed its highest honor on Bush in 2008, the Bob Jones Award. The PGA of America gave him its Distinguished Service Award in 1997, and the PGA Tour honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
Bush, who played baseball at Yale, did not take up golf until he was in his 20s, but became quite competitive at the sport. He also had family ties to it. His grandfather, Herbert Walker, was USGA president in 1920, and the Walker Cup — an amateur biennial competition between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland — was named after him. Bush’s father, Prescott, was USGA president in 1935.
Bush was the first honorary chairman of the First Tee, a program started in late 1997 that gives golf opportunities and teaches life lessons around the country.
“Obviously his name is synonymous with golf,” Woods said. “Being around him for all these years and getting a chance to be around him at the Presidents Cup and him being involved since its inception in ’94 … he was such a class act. Anyone who’s ever been around him knows how much he loved his golf and how much he supported it and how much we’re going to miss him.”
Bush attended several Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups over the years; he was at the former the first time it ventured outside the United States in 1998.
Jack Nicklaus, who captained the U.S. team that year (the only time it has lost in the competition), took to Twitter on Saturday to share a story from that event, which was played at Royal Melbourne in Australia.
“On the final day, President Bush stood on the first tee to greet all 24 players,” Nicklaus wrote. “From (the) first singles pairing until the last, the temperature dropped 40 degrees & with it came steady rain. President Bush stood in pouring rain & shook every hand — with grace & a big smile. To me, it spoke volumes about his enduring and endearing character.”
For Bush as a player, what stood out to just about everyone who came in contact with his game was the fast pace.
Bush once told a group of kids at a First Tee program that he never wanted to see them plumb-bobbing a 3-foot putt. And as the 41st president told ESPN writer Don Van Natta Jr. for his book “First off the Tee,” the family mantra was: “We’re not good, but we’re fast.”
Woods described Bush’s pre-shot routine as “basically club, ball, one look, gone.”
Bush played a lot of his golf at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he became proficient enough to win the club championship in 1947. Perhaps his most famous round of golf came in 1995 as part of the Bob Hope Desert Classic at Indian Wells Country Club near Palm Springs, California. For the pro-am, PGA Tour pro Scott Hoch was grouped with Bush, sitting president Bill Clinton, former president Gerald Ford and Hope. During the round, which was filled with errant shots, Bush hit a couple of spectators, one of whom was bloodied when a shot caromed off a tree and hit her on the nose.
Perhaps most horrifying of all to Bush? The round took more than six hours.
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PARIS — Tiger Woods is not used to others celebrating at his expense, but there he was on the 17th green Sunday afternoon, helpless. Jon Rahm had knocked his approach shot stiff, a short birdie putt away from putting Woods out of his misery, another Ryder Cup match lost.
One of golf’s great mysteries continues: Why is Woods’ Ryder Cup record so lousy?
He went 0-4 at Le Golf National after what was an inspired effort to even be part of the U.S. team. He came to France off the jubilation of victory at the Tour Championship, a satisfying-yet-emotional win that obviously left him spent, and he departed with the worst record of any player in the competition.
Two more Ryder Cup partners went on his résumé — Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau — adding to a long list of infamy that has seen Woods’ overall record drop to 13-21-3. He’s 9-19-1 with partners, and lost at singles for the first time since 1997.
All manner of explanations have been given over the years, none of which really apply now, if they ever did: he doesn’t care; he doesn’t like playing with a partner; he’s horrible at team events.
Woods might have had his issues 20 years ago, but now as one of the game’s elder statesmen, he has become heavily involved in the U.S. Ryder Cup process that selects the captains and assistant captains. He has already signed on to be the U.S. Presidents Cup captain in 2019 — and why would a guy who doesn’t give a rip do that? — with an eye on a future Ryder Cup captaincy.
And if you want to put Woods down for withering in the moment, that simply ignores his long career body of work, which includes his victory a week ago in Atlanta.
“We all saw his great win last week, and I think that took something out of him,” said Francesco Molinari, who went 5-0 for the Europeans and three times defeated Woods in the team competition. “But he was still hitting great shots. He’s still a really tough competitor.”
Said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava: “I think he’s frustrated and also disappointed because he knows he was playing well coming into the tournament. But I don’t think he’s going to let it spoil the year that he had. It is going to sting for a while. Didn’t win a match, and that hurts.
“But you know what, better things are ahead.”
First off, there will be rest.
Woods looked as if he could use it. In brief comments after losing his match to Rahm 2 and 1, he was resigned to having cost the U.S. a chance at victory with his play over the past three days. A few hours later, when the entire team conducted a postmatch news conference, Woods looked exhausted, as if he could fall asleep at any moment.
“I played seven out of nine weeks because I qualified for [the WGC event in] Akron, and all of those are big events, starting with the Open Championship, you’ve got the World Golf Championships, you’ve got another major championship, you’ve got the [FedEx] playoffs and then you have the Ryder Cup on the back side.
“So a lot of big events, and a lot of focus, a lot of energy goes into it. I was fortunate enough to have won one, and we were all coming here on a high and feeling great about our games, about what we were doing, and excited about playing this week.”
It never carried over. On Tuesday, Phil Mickelson said, “I honestly think this is the best I’ve seen him swing the club since 2000.” But Woods never brought that same speed and cohesion to the event.
At times throughout the Ryder Cup, Woods appeared to be moving slowly and swinging without much conviction. He had his moments, just not enough of them. On Sunday, he eagled the ninth hole and birdied the 12th, but as LaCava said, “That’s never going to be enough in something like this.”
After posting seven top-7s, climbing from 656th in the world to 13th, winning his first tournament in five years and being part of the Ryder Cup team, Woods, 42, is probably in for a long, extended break.
There is a chance he might play a late fall event on the PGA Tour before his scheduled Thanksgiving weekend match with Mickelson, followed by the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. It makes sense if that is all he does.
“For me, it’s been a lot of golf in a short period,” he said. “I’ll have a better understanding of what my training needs to be for next year so that I certainly can endure the entire season because this year was very much up in the air of how much I would play or if I would play at all.”
As it turned out, Woods played a ton, missing only two cuts and competing in 68 official rounds on the PGA Tour. The Ryder Cup made for a 19th event, a total number of tournaments he has exceeded once in the past 13 years.
So yes, Woods had a lousy Ryder Cup. So did Mickelson. So did No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson. Jordan Spieth lost at singles for the sixth time in six tries in both Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup competition. DeChambeau, in his first Ryder Cup, was shut out.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but Woods’ name will show up at the bottom of the stat sheet, his 0-4 record there for all to see where the scoreboard is the ultimate judge.
And yet, Woods deserves a bigger-picture view. After all he endured to get back here, and after the success he had along the way, the Ryder Cup pain is undeniable. So are the bodily aches he has endured along the way.
But it will pass in time, and just getting here will be celebrated, even if the result will not.
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Jim Furyk selects Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau for U.S.
PHILADELPHIA — Tiger Woods was one of three golfers named as at-large picks to the U.S. Ryder Cup team by captain Jim Furyk on Tuesday and later this month will make his eighth appearance in the event, but his first since 2012.
Although the at-large pick was expected, it was still the culmination of a remarkable and unlikely run that didn’t seem possible when Furyk named Woods to be one of his vice captains in January.
At the time, Woods, 42, was ranked 656th in the world and had not earned a single Ryder Cup point. He had not played competitive golf in a year, the result of his fourth back surgery.
“Deep down, I wanted to make the team. I really wanted to play on it,” Woods said Tuesday at a news conference where Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were also added to the U.S. team. “Now I had not started playing golf really yet, but still … it was a goal.
* Captain’s at-large picks
“… As the year progressed, I’ve kind of gained some traction and was somehow able to get some high finishes. And lo and behold, I’m a part of this team. It’s incredible, it really is, to look back at the start of the year and now to have accomplished a goal like that, to be a part of this team, and now to be a player is just — like I said, it’s beyond special.”
Woods, who has five top-10 finishes this year, including a runner-up at the PGA Championship three weeks ago, ended up 11th in the final Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight players after the PGA earning automatic picks.
Mickelson and DeChambeau also received at-large picks Tuesday and will join qualifiers Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.
Furyk will add a final pick Monday following the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club. Tony Finau is considered the leading candidate. Others who might still be considered are Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
The 2018 Ryder Cup will be played at Le Golf National, outside Paris, on Sept. 28-30.
Mickelson, 48, will be making his 12th straight Ryder Cup appearance.
“It’s obvious that the one thing that has been missing is for our team to go over to Europe and win,” said Mickelson, who has played on three winning U.S. teams — but never overseas. “I’m very excited about the team this year. I’m excited to be a part of this team. We have some incredible players, great leadership and a really special opportunity to do something that we haven’t done in a long time.
“It’s going to be a great challenge because we know how strong the European side is and how well they play at home. But it’s a wonderful chance, an opportunity for us to do something I haven’t done or been a part of in my career, and would very much like to.”
DeChambeau finished ninth in the final standings and was considered a strong possibility for a pick before winning the first two FedEx Cup playoff events. He is a former U.S. Amateur champion and has already developed a bond with Woods, looking to speculation about a possible pairing in France.
uryk said Woods will no longer serve as a vice captain. He named David Duval, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar as assistants to join previously announced vice captains Davis Love III and Steve Stricker.
Love captained the U.S. team to victory in 2016, and Stricker was the winning U.S. Presidents Cup team captain last year.
The European team had eight qualifiers — Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Alexander Noren, Francesco Molinariand Thorbjorn Olesen — decided on Sunday following the Made in Denmark tournament on the European Tour.
Captain Thomas Bjorn made his four at-large selections Wednesday, choosing Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia. Among those not making the team are Rafael Cabrera Bello, Thomas Pieters and Denmark winner Matt Wallace.
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Brooks Koepka wasn’t losing to anyone, not even Tiger Woods
ST LOUIS — He could hear the roars. How could he not? It felt, at times, like the Bellerive Country Club was vibrating. Brooks Koepka, however, wouldn’t look in the direction of them. He just kept marching forward, often with his head down and a tiny smirk on his face.
Up ahead, it was obvious Tiger Woods was pouring in birdies. The fairy-tale finish at the PGA Championship that everyone seemed to be longing for was taking shape. It was starting to feel like a remake of the 1986 Masters, with Koepka playing the role of Greg Norman, and Tiger morphing into Jack Nicklaus. The sentimental favorite was going to conjure up some old magic, and the young and brash phenom was going to wilt. The pressure was mounting with each roar.
“Everybody on the golf course could hear it,” Koepka said. “You could hear it trickle down as they changed the scoreboards. You’d hear different roars every three seconds. It was pretty obvious when Tiger made a birdie.”
But this wasn’t 1986. There was one significant difference this time. In this version, the brawny, confident antihero never blinked. You don’t have to love it, but Koepka was so icy and impressive amid the circus, you have to respect it. After holding off Woods for a two-stroke victory, Koepka now has three major championships at the age of 28. He did what Woods used to do in his prime, grabbing the lead and then stepping on the accelerator every time someone got close.
“Other than me and my team, I think everybody was rooting for Tiger,” Koepka said. “As they should. He’s the greatest player to ever to play the game. [Woods] is the whole reason people of my generation are even playing golf. To duel it out with him, I don’t think I ever dreamed of that situation today.”
Historically, it’s always been easy to compare Woods and Nicklaus. They dominated their eras like no one before them or since. And interestingly, there are a lot of similarities between Koepka and Norman. They’re both fitness freaks, both historically great drivers and both walked with a swagger and a chip on their shoulder. There appears to be one major difference, however: Norman tended to melt in big moments, and Koepka seems to live for them.
Need an example? When Woods birdied the 15th hole on Sunday to pull within a shot at 13-under par — nearly dunking his approach from the fairway — it was bedlam. Even if you shouted, you could barely hear your own voice above the din. Woods punched the air in jubilation, seemingly feeding off the gallery’s energy. “I wish we could play in front of crowds like this every single week because this is a true pleasure,” Woods said.
Koepka couldn’t help but smile, listening to it unfold.
“It brought me back to when I was a kid, when I was watching him, and you heard those roars,” Koepka said.
But instead of getting starstruck, Koepka uncorked a 334-yard drive on 15, hit his approach to 10 feet and made the birdie.
“He’s a tough guy to beat when he’s hitting it 340 in the air,” Woods said, talking about Koepka’s game with the same kind of awe Woods’ elders used to talk about his. “[Hitting it] 320 in the air is like a chip shot [for him]. That’s the new game.”
Koepka wasn’t done. He stood on the daunting 16th tee, a 248-yard par 3, and hit arguably the best shot of his entire week, ripping a 4-iron that landed soft and trickled to within 6 feet of the pin.
“That was like a laser,” said Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott. “He had to push the button. He had to give himself a cushion coming down the last few holes. The wedge on 15 was huge too, but that 4 iron, it never left the stick.”
“That’s probably going to go down as one of the best shots I’ve ever hit under pressure,” Koepka said.
When he drained the birdie putt, Koepka’s lead was back to two strokes. A birdie by Woods on 18, and bogey by Adam Scott on the same hole, gave Woods sole claim to second place. But even a final-round 64, Woods’ best Sunday round ever in a major, wasn’t enough.
“Surreal, that’s all I can say,” Koepka said.
It’s hard to surmise, at the moment, just how good, in historical terms, Koepka might be. Only four other players have ever won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in the same year. It’s some pretty robust company: Gene Sarazen (1922), Ben Hogan (1948), Nicklaus (1980) and Woods (2000).
You can argue that Koepka, if he keeps this up, could go down as one of the best American golfers ever, a thought he said hadn’t even occurred to him until he was asked about it Sunday night.
“I actually never thought about that,” Koepka said, grinning as he turned that potential reality over in his mind. “Three majors at 28 — it’s a cool feeling. It really is. You know, hopefully I can stay healthy. I’ve kind of had some trouble with that over the past two years, three years. I think I’m much more disciplined now, so I should be able to play every major, making sure my body’s healthy. But I’m excited. I’m excited for the next few years. I mean, as fans — and I’m a fan of golf — you should be excited. I mean, Tiger’s come back. You look at what Dustin [Johnson is] doing, Justin [Thomas], Rory [McIlroy], [Jordan] Spieth. It’s a great time to be a golf fan. I can’t wait to duel it out with them over the next couple years.”
There was a time when Woods — having finished second — would have been on his private jet by the time the last putt dropped. But this time was different. He hung around until Koepka was finished and offered him a hearty bear hug after the winner had signed his scorecard.
“I could hear it!” Koepka said, referencing the roars.
In truth, we all could. It was still special. But the game rolls on, and new faces emerge. The past is fun to revisit, but as Koepka can attest, the present is pretty damn good too.
https://www.foxfiregolfclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/i-1-1-e1534208907869.jpeg521653Valentinehttps://www.foxfiregolfclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Website-Header-PC-New20-FINAL-M.jpgValentine2018-08-13 21:09:192018-08-13 21:09:19Brooks Koepka wasn’t losing to anyone, not even Tiger Woods
For the first time in a long time, Tiger Woods looking forward to Masters week
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods was not on the grounds at Augusta National on Sunday, choosing to spend at least the early part of Easter at home before venturing north from Florida to a place he feared might never again be part of his competitive future.
Woods was here a little over a week ago to get a feel for the venue where he has four Masters Tournament victories, playing Augusta National for the first time since 2015, when he tied for 17th.
Each of the past two years, Woods, 42, came to the home of the year’s first major championship to take part in the Tuesday night champions dinner at the club, a bittersweet experience to say the least.
In both instances, the back issues that plagued him for a good part of the past four years prevented him from playing, and being on site made the pain even more acute.
“Brutal; it’s one of my favorite tournaments,” Woods said during a recent interview with ESPN.com. “To go and know that I can’t tee it up … it was harder than you might think. Way harder. When I got on the grounds, looking out there, knowing how to play the golf course, seeing the conditions, seeing the guys play … that was tough.”
Woods will be among the betting favorites when the Masters begins Thursday after a successful return to competition following 10 months away because of spinal fusion surgery on April 19, 2017.
In five tournaments on the PGA Tour, Woods has made four cuts, including a tie for second at the Valspar Championship and a tie for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, ramping up the hype even more.
That’s a long way removed from the past two Masters, when Woods in each case had made an effort to prepare for and play in the tournament, only to send along his regrets just days before tournament week.
“Of course, I’m always going to try,” Woods said when asked how seriously he considered playing the past two years. “But I really had a hard time walking. I knew I couldn’t swing, couldn’t play. And that made it even harder being there. If I wasn’t there, it’s a lot easier. But when I step foot on the property, knowing all the good memories and all the things I’ve done in the past on the golf course, it’s harder.”
Woods said the mood was somber two years ago as he realized that Arnold Palmer was in poor health. Wood and Palmer each won the Masters four times, trailing only Jack Nicklaus, who donned the green jacket six times.
Helping Palmer get seated at the dinner that night, Woods said, was worse than his own troubles. Palmer was unable to participate in the honorary starter ceremony the next morning with Nicklaus and Gary Player; Palmer died less than six months later.
Woods’ outlook was dire a year ago for a different reason. He wondered if he’d ever play again. At the time, he was just a few weeks away from having the spinal fusion surgery that required he go six months without swinging a club.
Nobody, most of all Woods, knew how he would emerge. Even as he was about to start swinging a club again, Woods said on Sept. 27, “I don’t know what my future holds for me.”
“There were plenty of dark thoughts,” Woods said. “Because I really couldn’t do it. That’s what makes this year so exciting. I’ve got a chance to really do some good playing. That hasn’t been the case for years.”
Woods visited Augusta National on March 22- 23, playing practice rounds each day, according to a post on his website. He had said following the Arnold Palmer Invitational that he would spend considerable time charting the greens and learning the course again.
As has been his custom, Woods used a local caddie named Jay Thacker — Augusta National requires one of its caddies to be employed during non-tournament weeks — and took his time making his way around the course.
His pre-tournament preparation has varied over the years. Woods said he has never played Augusta National — as would be his privilege as a past champion — other than in the weeks leading up to the tournament to get a feel for any changes made.
For several years, Woods made a habit of playing a Sunday practice round at Augusta National, when no spectators are around and just a handful of tournament participants and members are on the course.
But he didn’t do so the last time he played (in 2015), showing up on Monday — having taken the previous nine weeks off to address short-game issues — and then, surprisingly, tying for 17th. And he elected to skip Sunday this year, too.
No matter. Few know the golf course as well as Woods, who last won here in 2005 but has seven top-six finishes in his past nine starts. He also arrives healthy for the first time since 2013, when he tied for fourth.
That is why there is so much optimism, especially from Woods.
“Quite a shift,” Woods said on his website. “Six months ago, the odds were I wasn’t even going to play. I’ve been better with each week I’ve competed. A little more crisp. I’m starting to put the pieces together.”
How Tiger Woods, in his heyday, made golf cool by transcending it
Maybe it was those 350-yard drives and spontaneous, exuberant fist pumps.
Perhaps it was the big smile, athletic build and the brilliant marketing campaign that showed him doing everything from juggling golf balls with his club to walking on water. Then, too, there was that name — Tiger — and the fact he looked different than all the other golfers he was beating so regularly.
Whatever it was, Tiger Woods has been as much a cultural comet in professional golf as a victorious one. From the time he turned pro in 1996, and even past his last major victory at the U.S. Open in 2008, Woods drew mores eyes to him and his sport than any other golfer ever. In his prime, Woods turned tournaments into must-watch events, even for those who’d never teed up a golf ball.
He was compelling, a perfect blend of talent and charisma suited for a growing American diversity and the digital age. TV ratings, galleries and prize money all increased significantly. People had to watch. Woods dragged golf — a sport most Americans have never played — into the Land of Cool.
Among professional athletes for most of the early 2000s, Woods ranked with basketball icon Michael Jordan at the top of the Q Score, which rates popularity and marketing appeal. In 2008, Forbes ranked Woods No. 2 on its annual Celebrity 100 list, based on fame and money. Only Oprah Winfrey was higher.
Plus, he was making cultural as well as sports history. In 1997 at just 21, he stormed to a win at the Masters, shooting a record score and living up to years of hype. That it came at Augusta National, where African-Americans hadn’t been allowed to play until 1975, put him in a special place. The attention just kept coming, with 13 other major victories — including four straight — and 79 total wins on tour.
“Tiger embodied a kind of modern cool that golf hadn’t seen before,” said Orin Starn, a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University and author of the book “The Passion of Tiger Woods.” “This was to a certain degree, and still is, a bland, vanilla sport played by anonymous white guys who all dress the same and look the same. So to have this charismatic, young African-American-Asian-American hybrid figure bursting onto the scene made huge news.”
Rick Schloss, the former longtime media director of the annual PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines in San Diego, recalled how the galleries swelled when Woods came to the tour, attracting a younger element interested in one thing: Tiger.
“They’d go there to watch him,” Schloss said. “They don’t know what else is going on. They’ve got their Ugg boots on, the hats on backwards, they’ve got a craft beer, and they know he’s cool.”
In 2001, after he won four straight majors, Americans polled by Gallup named him as the nation’s No. 1 athlete. His favorability rating was on a par with the likes of Jordan, John Glenn, Colin Powell and Pope John Paul II.
Yet Woods slipped from that perch in 2009, when his off-the-course life turned upside down with a personal scandal that led to divorce. He took a leave from golf for several months. He lost sponsorships. When he returned, he wasn’t the same. His smile, swing and putting stroke were diminished.
His last tour win came in 2013, and he failed to reach the weekend at his only two starts in 2017, missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January and withdrawing due to injury from a European Tour event after one round in Dubai a week later. He hasn’t played since.
Prior to that, Woods missed nearly a year and a half because of a back injury, although he did play the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial PGA Tour event that he hosts, in December.
In his absence, golf’s attendance and TV ratings suffered.
Now 41, Woods has skipped three 2017 tournaments (the Genesis Open, Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational) that he typically plays each year, and his next move remains unknown. He even WD’d from a news conference prior to the Genesis Open, which is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Woods hasn’t given up hope of making what would surely be a dramatic return at next week’s Masters. Starn, for one, is looking forward to seeing Woods back inside the ropes.
Said Starn: “There’s always interest in a comeback story in America.”
TIGER’S CELEBRITY PRECEDED HIM to the PGA Tour. He was a child prodigy, a standout at Stanford and a six-time USGA national champion (three U.S. Junior Amateurs and three U.S. Amateurs). He and other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world were like magnets, attracting one another. He lived in a different, more star-studded world than golf’s other top players.
Woods appeared on the sidelines at NFL and basketball games. He played golf with Jordan, Charles Barkley and Tony Romo. He hung with Mark Cuban, Michael Phelps, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting and Will Ferrell. Each year, the Tiger Jam fundraiser for his Tiger Woods Foundation in Las Vegas delivered the celebs. It all brought more attention to golf and the tournaments he played.
Chris Zimmerman, the former director of advertising for Nike and then the company’s general manager for golf, was there when Woods turned pro and signed a $40 million sponsorship deal with the company. From the outset, he said, those around Woods were intent on making him more than just the best golfer of his generation.
“From day one, they had interest in what Tiger could be as an athlete, but also as a brand,” said Zimmerman, now the president and CEO of business operations for the St. Louis Blues. “That’s a tall order for a 21-year-old coming out of a few years at Stanford. But he had been on a path toward greatness from an early age, and certainly both his dad and the people around him, they were very clear that they believed Tiger Woods could be a great brand, much in the same way that Michael Jordan had been.”
The first Nike TV commercials in 1996 to introduce Woods to viewers were “Hello, World” and “I am Tiger Woods.” Each told stories. The first was about his commitment to golf and his road to the tour. The second, his roots and connection to a new, diverse generation. Zimmerman says the intent was never to make Tiger cool — above the rest — but to show his respect for the game and help Nike launch its golf equipment business.
When Woods’ style and personality meshed with his wins and the acceptance of Nike’s products, the ad campaign helped catapult him into the Jordan realm.
“That’s where the magic is,” Zimmerman said.
The most memorable commercial was itself enchanting, a 1999 spot in which Woods juggled a ball on a clubface for nearly 30 seconds while switching hands, going between his legs and behind his back before popping the ball into the air and knocking it down the driving range with a baseball swing.
While many top golfers can do the same thing, Average Joe and Jane watching at home didn’t know that. Tiger, it seemed, could do anything.
“It was an exceptionally successful commercial,” Zimmerman said. “It just fascinated people. They wanted to know if it was real, had he really done that.”
Those commercials helped him vault from athlete to cultural icon, according to Donna Barbie, professor of humanities and communication at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and editor of the book “The Tiger Woods Phenomenon,” a collection of essays.
“His dad and his companies were marketing geniuses,” Barbie said. “Has there ever been a golfer who was so marketed as Tiger Woods?”
Barbie, who studies cultural phenomena, said Woods was a “change agent” for golf, bringing it further into the mainstream and boosting TV ratings, attendance and earnings. Even the golf video game that bore his name was popular with young gamers.
“They would never have dreamed of playing golf, of all things, in some software, electronic format if it hadn’t been for Tiger Woods,” she said. “I can guarantee that.”
His presence on tour was a signal that golf had changed and that younger players would have to change, too, to compete.
“It’s not old men in weird plaid pants anymore,” Barbie said, laughing. “It’s young, vibrant athletes who can show their athleticism.”
The fact Woods was built like an athlete — and trained like one — made him stand out among fellow golfers, Barbie contended. So did his heritage, his talent and his bearing. He wasn’t the everyman, eye-contact, hand-shaking Arnold Palmer who brought fans to the game in the 1950s and ’60s. Woods was more focused and aloof on course, making him both “cool and compelling.”
“He was not one of the people,” Barbie said. “But he caused people to want to participate and witness greatness. … They love Tiger Woods because he was above it, because he was on the pedestal. We really love to look up to people who are larger than life.”
Barbie, a lifelong golfer, often followed Woods on the PGA Tour, watching his fans as much as she watched him. They always expected to see him to do the unexpected. Usually, he did.
She recalled Woods one year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill contemplating whether to go for a green over water or lay up.
“He’s holding a wood and everyone’s going, ‘Yeah, he’s going to go for it,'” she said. “And then he puts the wood away and brings out the iron, and there was a groan by the gallery, just a groan, like, ‘Really? You’re going to disappoint us?’ And then he takes out the wood and goes for it and gets it, and everybody is ecstatic.
“That’s what cool is.”
CHRIS RILEY PLAYED AGAINST Woods as a junior and in college before both turned pro in 1996. While Woods went straight to the PGA Tour, Riley got there in 1999, eventually advancing to No. 22 in the Official World Golf Ranking and playing with Woods and Team USA in the 2004 Ryder Cup.
Riley said Woods “transcended the game” and helped lift the image of golf, which was “nerdy” when he played as a boy but now is considered a “cooler game.”
“No doubt,” Riley said. “At sports bars now, people will watch golf, especially if Tiger is playing. Even if he’s not playing. But pre-1996, nobody watched golf unless you were a golfer.”
Plus, Riley said, Woods impacted the sport with his dedication to fitness, prompting other golfers change their training habits to keep up.
“You don’t see the guys anymore, the Tim Herrons, going to have a beer or a cocktail after the round,” he said, referring to the tour veteran nicknamed “Lumpy.” “They go to the gym to get a massage, work with their trainer.”
It’s not hard to see how Woods’ influence on the game has rubbed off on the current wave of top talent led by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. However, Tiger’s impact off the course might be only as effective as his game. As his play has gone downhill, so has the sport’s popularity as recreational activity.
According to the National Golf Foundation, participation in golf surged as Tiger surged, but it has slowed or declined in recent years by measurements such as number of public courses, golfers, annual rounds played and youth participation (although not among girls and women).
The equipment business Nike had built around Woods suffered, too, and last year the company announced it would no longer sell golf clubs, balls and bags.
“Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think he made it cool to watch and not really to play,” Riley said.
Starn sees the same thing. Tiger’s magnetism was a boon to the tour, but it might not have the lasting effect the sport had anticipated. Without Woods in recent years, Starn said the tour lacks a dynamic sense of excitement.
“But I do think Tiger generated a kind of excitement around golf that was unprecedented,” Starn said.
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Tiger Woods signs deal to play Bridgestone golf balls
Bridgestone Golf announced this morning that 79-time PGA Tour winner and 14-time major champion Tiger Woods has signed a multi-year agreement to exclusively play and promote its golf balls.
Woods, who spent 683 weeks as the top-ranked golfer in the world, will play the Bridgestone Tour B330-S ball after thoroughly testing it against competing models from all major brands.
“Finding the right golf ball is extremely important,” Woods said in a press release. “It’s an essential part of my equipment, and the Bridgestone B330-S ball is hands-down the best for my game. Controlling launch and trajectory is critical, and with this ball I feel I have total control to hit all shots accurately. I’m not just here to play — I’m here to win, and the innovative breakthroughs of the Bridgestone B330-S ball can help me do that.”
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“No one spends more time perfecting their equipment than Tiger Woods, and no one holds their equipment to a higher standard,” said Angel Ilagan, President and CEO of Bridgestone Golf. “His choice of Bridgestone sends a clear message that our golf balls are superior to all others.”
As part of the partnership, Woods will be featured in digital, social, print and broadcast marketing globally as a Bridgestone Golf ambassador.
Woods will also support the popular Bridgestone ball-fitting program, which he believes can stimulate a new generation of golfers and increase enjoyment for all players.
“Bridgestone wants to make golf easier for everyone,” said Woods. “Knowing that every golfer’s game and swing is unique, it works to match each individual with the best ball for his or her game. If you’re not switching to Bridgestone, you’re missing out on better scores and a better experience.”