Friday, February 27, 2009

620 Holes. Over and Out.

So what was it like to see Tiger lose for the first time since the Masters? Beats me. When Tiger conceded defeat to Tim Clark in his 2nd round match yesterday, I was 450 miles from Tucson, almost back to L.A.

I started the week with the full intention of picking up where I left off and following Tiger throughout the week. What could be more fun, right? But a few things happened late in the day on Wednesday that told me my time was done.

First, on the 16th hole, just as Tiger was looking over his par putt to beat Brendan Jones, I walked into a cactus. I never would have done that last year.

Second, driving back to the place I was staying, I reached for the Dr. Pepper I had just bought from Sonic and lifted the straw to my mouth. As the liquid traveled up the straw, I knew something was wrong. When it hit my lips, I realized I had unknowingly grabbed my soda from the day before, now warm and slimy after 24 hours in the hot Tucson sun. I reflexively spit it out, spreading soda all over my white shirt, my khaki pants and the interior of my car. Something was definitely off.

And third was this quote from Tiger after his first round match that I couldn't get out of my head:

Reporter: Did you learn anything new about yourself today? Anything different that surprised you?

Tiger Woods: No.

When I read that, things came into focus. I didn't need to keep going. Sure, it was incredible to see Tiger play again. But 620 holes was enough. Like Tiger, I'd learned what there was to learn.

So I left early Thursday and drove home. And at 3:30 my time, I heard the news -- Tiger lost. Which means that by listening to that subconscious voice and leaving early, I avoided the pain of witnessing Tiger go home without a trophy for the first time in almost a year.

Or I'm his good luck charm and I let millions of Tiger fans down. Alright, MAYBE I'll go to Doral in 2 weeks...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Return.

I had plenty of time to think about Tiger's return to the game of golf as I drove the 500 miles from LA to Tucson yesterday. For me the lingering question about Tiger was not his health. I mean, geez, worst case he'd still be healthier than at the US Open, which he won. To me the question was his ability to trust his new swing in competition.

And yes, it is (subtly) new. The best way to describe it is that his lower body is quieter. With a healthier left leg, Tiger has to do less to create speed. And when there are less moving parts, control could only increase. IF he could trust it.

And he did. Tiger had more control off the tee than I ever saw last year. He missed three fairways total -- and none by more than 5 yards. The closest he came to finding the desert was with his opening 3-wood off the 1st tee. But a nice kick to the left found the fairway, and Tiger was off. A birdie. Then an eagle. Welcome back.

Here are a few random moments of the day that TV had to miss:

1) Putting Green. Tiger added a bizarre drill to his warm-up whose purpose I don't quite get. He stood three feet from the cup and stroked the straight putt into the hole... and then held his finish. With his head down. FOR EIGHT SECONDS. Just when I think Tiger is not a robot, he does something like that.

2) The amateur golf fans were out in force today. My favorite line, which I heard plenty today, was this: "Is it Tiger's turn to shoot?" Strangest thing I heard called out: "Hey Tiger, let me take you catfishing!"

3) After putting Brendan Jones dormie (4 down with 4 to play), Tiger arrived at the 15th tee to find the group in front of him still waiting to tee off. Obviously wanting to keep his momentum and finish off Jones, Tiger had no choice but to laugh and take a seat. The problem with choosing a cooler as your seat on a hot day in Tucson is you'll have to get up a lot. When the wave of photographers came through, Tiger opened the cooler for them and said, "I'm buying." When Brendan Jones came over, Tiger stood up again. As Jones' water dribbled on the cooler, Tiger stared at him and said with a half-grin, "Wipe that up." Thankfully, Jones just laughed.

Above is a picture from 15 tee. Yes, that guy with the rolled-up sleeves looks quite creepy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Off to Tucson...

Honestly, I didn't think I'd be doing this again. But when my editor at HarperCollins asked if I wanted to write any new material for Follow the Roar's paperback edition (not due out till August or September), the natural thing to write about was the return of Tiger. So I told him that wherever Tiger resurfaced, I'd be there for one last hurrah.

I'll leave Tuesday, in my same car, hoping it can hold on for yet another trip across the desert from California to the Accenture Match Play in Tucson. While the city is the same, the venue is different, and advance reports from people who have seen The Ritz-Carlton Course at Dove Mountain promise me it won't be the absurd trek that The Gallery Golf Club was last March. Actually, that's good news for Tiger, too, who seems wary only at the thought of walking golf, not playing it.

Information on the new course is hard to find. The Ritz website says a lot but it all reads like a PR guy wrote it, not a golfer:

"A reflection of the Sonoran Desert’s lush, mountainside terrain, the original 27 holes of this Jack Nicklaus Signature Design present unique challenges and distinct character, blended naturally among noble saguaros that line the surrounding Tortolita Mountain Range."

Thank heavens for "noble saguaros." I can't stand those desert courses with blue-collar cacti on it.

Next I went to Google Maps, but the satellite photo pre-dates the course being built. That said, I did have a laugh when I saw what the old Gallery Golf Club looks like from above. No wonder I was so tired after every match.

More updates to come this week, of course.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tim Finchem "Almost" Satisfied with Size of Tiger Headline

Ponte Vedra, FL -- Desperate to capitalize on Tiger's return to the Tour, Commissioner Tim Finchem says he is "almost happy" with the font size of's "Tiger Returns" headline. At 400 points, the entire two-word headline no longer fits on one line and is nearly two times the size used by the New York Times to announce the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Finchem would reportedly like to go as high as 500 points, despite webmaster Paul Dennis's warning that at that size the headline would no longer be legible on most computer monitors.

BREAKING: TIGER ROARS AGAIN -- Back for Next Week's Match Play

Story here. And assuming my schedule comes together, I'll be there. More details to follow.

Ryo Ishikawa: First Impressions

I just got back from my first Tour event since the Monday playoff of the U.S. Open, having headed out early to catch Ryo Ishikawa's PGA Tour debut. Ryo, a 17-year-old media darling from Japan, is already a two-time winner on the Japan Tour and has received invitations to not just this week's Northern Trust Open in L.A., but also the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and a tournament in Georgia called the Masters.

Quick thoughts:
**His Game. Ishikawa is not a smoke and mirrors player. His swing is simple, solid and he's got some bulk on him that Tiger never had until a few years ago.

**His Attitude. Ryo doesn't carry himself like a typical 17-year old. Despite never playing in a PGA event, he was cool and collected, showing no nerves as he split the 1st fairway and then made a not-so-simple 5-footer for an opening birdie.

**His sticks. Yonex? I know Yonex has more pull in Asia, but the only player I can think of who still plays them is Colin Montgomerie.

**His Gallery. While Ryo certainly attracted a good crowd, we were dwarfed by the Asian media, with a good 30 photographers clicking away the entire time.

**His Hair. I couldn't help but notice Ishikawa's locks while he waited on the 2nd tee. It's a safe bet that he is the only player in this week's field who called ahead to make sure his hotel bathroom included a hairdryer.

The bottom line is that whether or not Ishikawa makes the cut, he is the latest in a new generation of players who have grown up not fearing Tiger Woods, but learning from him, and taking notes on what he does to succeed that they can emulate.

While no one will come close to Tiger's and Jack's major totals, guys like Ishikawa convince me that today's young players may steal a victory or two out of Woods' pocket in a way no one ever has before. Should make for some great golf.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ACTUAL NEWS: Rocco Reflects on U.S. Open

As promised, 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate made his annual appearance at my local Roger Dunn's golf shop Tuesday night to answer questions, give a fan a lesson and hand out some raffle prizes. And since I heard every person there would receive two free Callaway golf balls, I went. And brought my son, which meant I had 4 golf balls coming my way once he forgot about them.

As for the turnout, one employee told me it was easily double of any of the previous years. And the TV crew? Yeah, first for that too.

Eight months removed from his 91-hole duel with Tiger, Rocco has a little more perspective on that famous week than he had in the aftermath of the playoff.

"You either play your best golf with Tiger or your worst," Rocco said. For Rocco, of course, he played his best, calling the duel with Woods "the greatest examination in golf." Rocco's secret is clearly in his attitude, refusing to let the pressure of taking down a giant be anything, but, well, a thrill. "It's way more fun to play with Tiger," Rocco explained. Intimidating? Apparently not. "He can't stop me from playing any shot I want. Only I can do that."

This lust for a challenge may be the one personality trait Rocco and Tiger share. For a guy who has gone years where he can barely walk, let alone play golf, look at his record in the U.S. Open going starting in 2001:

2001 - 4th
2002 - 37th
2003 - cut
2004 - didn't play
2005 - 6th
2006 - cut
2007 - didn't play
2008 - 2nd

"I hate those types of tournaments where par doesn't mean anything," he said. In the end, par meant everything, when Rocco's bogey on the 91st hole was the difference between his first major victory and yet another top-10 finish. "I made the first mistake and it was over." For his efforts, Rocco recieved a runner-up medal (which he can't currently find), a book deal with John Feinstein (due out in June), and the adoration of underdogs everywhere. And that seems to be plenty for Rocco, who frankly admits, "I wouldn't want what Tiger wants. It's too much work."

When the Q and A was over, Rocco headed to the indoor range where a lanky high schooler was quick to volunteer for a free lesson. Needing a club, the kid started to finger through Rocco's red Callaway Tour bag, an act of agression that immediately erased Rocco's trademark smile. "No," Rocco said, "Especially not off a mat." As the kid backed away from the bag, Rocco breathed a sigh of relief. Turns out even golf's everyman has his standards.

George Lopez and Andy Garcia Still Playing 3rd Round of Pebble Beach Pro-Am

A full 84 hours into their round, the foursome of Andy Garcia, George Lopez, Notah Begay and Paul Stankowski have finally reached the par-5 18th hole at Pebble Beach. "It's a little slow out here," admitted Stankowski, "but you know, that's part of what makes this week different and special." The group was unable to complete their round on Saturday when Lopez went crowdsurfing and didn't return for 45 minutes.

Sunday and Monday's play was washed out by rain, and today has seen various delays, mostly from Andy Garcia refusing to play until he had mastered balancing a golf club on his nose.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Return of Rocco

In Follow the Roar, I explain the difference between Tiger Woods and Rocco Meidate with the simple illustration that Rocco appears at my local golf shop every February to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Well, I was reminded that it is that time of year again when I received this in my inbox:

But for Rocco's sake, wash your hands before shaking his. After undergoing a knee surgery that kept him out of the Buick Invitational, the poor guy came down with a killer flu and is only recently up and about. As for that knee, he's expecting it to be okay -- he'll just need to get the fluid drained out of it after every round. For Tiger, this would be front page news. For Rocco, it's business as usual.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pebble Uses Cypress Point for Overflow Parking

With parking an ever-increasing problem on the Monterey Peninsula, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is using nearby Cypress Point Club as an additional parking lot for the week's events. It marks the first time that Cypress Point has had an official role in the event since it was dropped as one of the host clubs after 1990 for its refusal to adjust its waiting list and admit an African-American member.

Having little contact with the outside world, members at Cypress Point were unsure of how much to charge for parking and originally posted a sign saying, "$6,000 all day" before dropping it to "$600", and eventually settling at $20 by lunchtime.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Weekend Wrap-Up: Things I Still Can't Believe...

I still can't believe...

THIS QUOTE, from 3-time major winner Phil Mickelson, describing his lackluster beginning to the 2009 season:

"I can certainly feel some rust. I didn't play for over two months. And it's rusty. I spent seven or eight days before this season trying to get ready, and I thought that it was coming together. But it hasn't quite yet."

I flew past this quote when I heard it. But my wife, a slave to golf whether she wants to be or not, was listening from the kitchen and called out, "seven or eight days"? I went back and listened. Yes, the #4 golfer in the world said that he only spent seven or eight DAYS preparing for the 2009 season. And yet he remains mystified at the bad results?

Compare this to Buick Invitational winner Nick Watney, who spent most of the off-season in Las Vegas working with coach Butch Harmon on the worst part of his game -- his putting. The results? Watney didn't have a single three-putt all week. As for Mickelson, he 4-putted the 6th green today.

I don't fault Phil for easing up on the accelerator. He's 38 years old, he's got young kids who miss him when he's gone and he has more money than he can spend. Just don't act shocked when a week of practice doesn't equal a W.

I still can't believe...

THIS QUESTION, asked to 7th place finisher (and last week's runner-up) Charley Hoffman:

Reporter: How do you feel about your position in the FedEx Cup?

What? Is this reporter a plant from the Tour's PR department or something? Charley, thankfully, was just as perplexed considering that the FedEx Cup Playoffs don't begin for over SEVEN MONTHS.

Charley: FedEx Cup, I mean, it's early.

I still can't believe...

THIS STAT. Camilo Villegas played his first 18 holes of the week 9-under par and his last 54 holes even, good enough for 3rd place.

And I still can't believe...

... from the USGA on Saturday that Lancaster C.C. in Pennsylvania will play host to the 2015 U.S. Women's Open. Plans for the event are still in the early stages, but may I suggest ditching traditional courtesy cars for a more culturally appropriate vehicle?

Course the folks at the USGA are sort of sticklers about non-conforming drivers.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rose Sued For Damage to Dick's Sporting Goods

English golfer Justin Rose was slapped with a seven-figure lawsuit this week, the result of significant damage the world's 15th ranked player is accused of causing during a 2007 range session inside an Atlanta Dick's Sporting Goods store.

According to papers obtained exclusively by FORE RIGHT, Rose walked into the Atlanta store determined to "show off" just how hard he could hit Taylor Made's Burner driver. Employees rushed to protect the store's various sporting goods, but Rose "refused to stop." He grabbed the driver out of another golfer's hands and swung. The explosion caused by the violent act was simply too much for the 6,000 square foot steel structure, causing Dick's 1-ton green steel sign to become detached from its supports and tilt perilously above the store's entrance (pictured).

In the wake of Justin's "rage session," the Atlanta Dick's was forced to remain closed for two weeks as repairs were made and building inspectors checked for further structural damage.

While no one was injured, the suit alleges that various customers were nearly knocked down by the force.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pros Return to Torrey Pines South... and Unfortunately TP North

The highlight of last night's Golf Central was an interview with Jon Maddern, Golf Operations Manager for the City of San Diego, who was asked about the condition of Torrey Pines North, the red-headed stepchild that the Buick Invitational will use on Thursday and Friday to accommodate the large field. He was anything but confident. And considering the 1st hole of the North spent a few weeks buried underneath THIS (photo above) during June's U.S. Open, it's understandable.

Said Maddern, "In that five months, we've got the turf on [the North course] one hundred percent where the players can play from it.... it's in playable condition." That's good, because players generally prefer playing on grass.

Steve Sands then asked him to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Maddern's answer: a 6!!

At last, pros playing on a muni that's actually set up like a muni.