by Michael Fitzpatrick… The proverbial “they” say that a picture can speak a thousand words.
I had heard the phrase before but never paid much attention to it until yesterday evening when I saw the picture of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson standing side-by-side on the 18th green at East Lake Golf Club.
The two greatest golfers of this generation each holding seperate trophies while standing side-by-side on the 18th green —I wonder who the big winner was?
Well, who do you think?
This one single photo accurately captured the careers of these two golfing heavyweights.
Mickelson posted a bogey free round of 65 and won the Tour Championship going away, yet Woods still managed to walk away as the big winner.
Woods was given the larger, sleeker looking trophy and will see an additional $10 million on his next bank statement for winning the FedEx Cup. Mickelson, on the other hand, was left standing with an inferior looking trophy and will receive just $1.35 million for winning the Tour Championship (plus the additional $3 million he earned for finishing second in the final FedEx Cup point standings).
Woods was sporting his billion dollar smile (literally) while Mickelson had that ever-present awe-shucks look on his face.
The Nike swoosh seen on Woods’ trademark Sunday red shirt has earned him significantly more money over the years than Mickelson’s KPMG, Barclays, and Callaway gear.
By now, it’s well known that despite being one of twenty greatest golfers of all-time, Mickelson has had to take a back seat to Woods for the past 13 years, and yesterday was no different.
Not only did this photo sum up the Woods/Mickelson rivalry, but it also exposed the one major flaw still present in the FedEx Cup playoff system.
How can a player win the Tour Championship and not win the FedEx Cup title?
Is it possible for an NFL team to win the Super Bowl but not win the Lombardi Trophy?
“I like the way today went,” Mickelson said sarcastically. “I was two back of him, I beat him by three. He gets the $10 million check, and I get $1 million. I’ve got no problem with that.”
Well Phil, as I’m sure you are painfully aware of, all is not fair in the Tiger Woods’ era and the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
But then again, considering that Mickelson’s wife and mother have both beaten cancer this summer, perhaps defeating Tiger Woods on the golf course isn’t quite as important as it used to be.
Could there be more important things in life than taking down Woods and winning the 2009 FedEx Cup?
I’m fairly certain that Mickelson’s answer to that question would be a resounding ‘yes’, as it should be.
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
by Martin Fitzpatrick… Hazeltine National was a late riser on Thursday.
For those players who happened to have morning tee times, the birdies were plentiful.
But by around 1pm, Hazeltine National finally began showing her teeth and by late afternoon, she had teamed-up with Mother Nature to launch an all-out assault on those players still out on the golf course.
90 degree temperatures dried out the poana greens resulting in longer approach shots bouncing over the green as if they had just landed on a springboard.
As the afternoon wore on, the greens not only became increasingly fast, but subtle bumps became more prevalent, leaving many players standing with baffled looks on their faces as seemingly perfect putts inexplicably bounced off line.
Players with afternoon tee times held on for dear life, brushed off the beating they were given by Hazeltine National, and are now looking forward to better scoring conditions in the morning.
Now, don’t let Adam Scott’s 82 fool you as the level of difficulty certainly wasn’t that extreme this afternoon.
However, only five out of the top-16 players on the leaderboard played the golf course during the afternoon hours.
But don’t worry folks, this is not a repeat of the US Open debacle at Bethpage where players who got the wrong end of the draw on Thursday were climbing Mt. Everest for the remainder of the week.
Cooler temperature will move in with the setting sun, and a rain shower or two overnight should replenish the course and create considerably softer conditions tomorrow morning.
Those players who received a beat-down from Hazeltine this afternoon should be able to take their revenge on the course tomorrow if they are striking the ball well.
The last time Tiger Woods played a competitive round of golf at Hazeltine was during the final round of the 2002 PGA Championship where he finished with four consecutive birdies.
Well, seven years later Woods picked up right where he left off back in 2002.
Woods, who teed off at 8:35am local time, opened with a five-under-par round of 67 and is currently the sole leader after 18-holes.
It has long been said that a golf tournament is not won on Thursday, which is true.
However, another solid round from Woods tomorrow and he might have the rest of the field locked in a sleeper hold heading into the weekend.
That being said, the forecast for tomorrow afternoon is calling for wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour, which could allow the morning wave to make their move on Woods before he even tees off in tougher, windier conditions.
But, the way Woods has been striking the ball lately, a category 5 hurricane could sweep through Hazeltine tomorrow and he would simply adjust his ball flight appropriately and still walk off the course with a 68.
Although Saturday is typically known as ‘moving day’ on the PGA Tour, there should be a decent amount of moving done on the leaderboard tomorrow.
The rest of the field will just be hoping that Tiger Woods doesn’t do his moving by taking off up the leaderboard on an F-16 fighter jet while everyone else is forced to try and catch him in their Buicks.
by Martin Fitzpatrick… If you continue to walk around in a circle for along enough, you’ll eventually make your way right back to where you started.
We may finally be getting to this point in terms of the lengthening of major championship golf courses.
After Tiger Woods completely decimated Augusta National back in 1997 with length previously unseen in the game of golf, courses around the country immediately began scrambling to ‘Tiger Proof’ their courses.
Unfortunately ‘Tiger Proofing’ meant one thing and one thing only: adding additional length.
Members of prestigious country clubs don’t want to see the likes of Tiger Woods and J.B. Holmes getting home in two on their par-fives with sand wedges, that’s downright embarrassing.
So, for more than a decade now, courses have been lengthened by hundreds of yards in order to contain the longer hitters and attempt to equalize the field.
There’s been just one fundamental problem with that strategy.
When you play a major championship at a 7,500 yard golf course, you are certainly containing the likes of Woods, Holmes, Mickelson, etc. However, you are also immediately eliminating a large percentage of excellent ball strikers simply because they don’t average 320 yards off of the tee.
In essence, by ‘Tiger Proofing’ golf courses, the longer hitters have actually gained an even greater advantage due to the fact that much of their competition has already been eliminated before the first tee shots are even struck.
So, now back to the circle theory.
Next week’s PGA Championship will take place at Hazeltine National Golf Club, which plays nearly 7,700 yards.
Hazeltine will be the longest course ever to host a major championship and already has many players, fans and golf historians wondering when the course lengthening madness will come to an end.
Although we are fast approaching the day when a major championship will take a place on a golf course where players tee off in New York and putt out on the 18th green in California, the fact of the matter is that Hazeltine is so ridiculously long, that it has actually come full circle and equalized the field.
How is that possible?
Well, for starters, there are three par-fives that will play longer than 600 yards. This means that almost no one in the field will be getting home in two; hence a premium will be placed on accuracy and strong wedge play on the par-fives.
Second, aside from the 518 yard par-four 12th, none of the par-fours are playing overly long.
The real danger on the par-fours will lie in the thick rough lining the extremely narrow and winding fairways; which once again places a premium on accuracy more than length.
The par-three 13th plays 248 yards and will require most players to hit long irons or hybrids.
Once again, at first glance, you might assume that the bombers would have a marked advantage on a 248 yard par-three.
But, how often do guys like J.B. Holmes, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson really hit long irons?
On the other hand, guys like Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, and David Toms are often forced to hit long irons at major championships and have become comfortable in doing so.
Amazingly enough, by lengthening a golf course to astounding proportions, things have actually come full circle, and the advantage may have even swung towards the shorter hitters.
That’s certainly not to say that guys like Woods or Mickelson will be not wind up winning next week.
Mickelson is one of the greatest short iron players of all time, and in Woods’ case, you simply don’t win 14 majors without being able to hit wedges and long irons.
But, guys like Mike Weir, Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman have all shown how possible it is to pick apart an extremely long golf course by relying heavily on their solid wedge play.
Perhaps we could be looking at a similar outcome this year at Hazeltine.
by Martin Fitzpatrick… How are you meant to teach your children about good sportsmanship when they turn on the television every Sunday and see NFL players engaging in ridiculous, taunting celebrations after every single play?
How are you meant to teach your children about refraining from arguing with their coaches and the refs when every time they watch an NBA basketball game they see players whining to the refs like spoiled 5-year-olds after every single posession?
How are you meant to teach your kids about not cursing and slamming down their clubs on the golf course when they turn on the television and watch the best players in the world do just that at the British Open?
How are you meant to teach you children about taking responsibility for their actions when every press conference they see on ESPN contains yet another athlete blaming everyone and everything else other than themselves for their poor performance?
How are you meant to teach your children about being a team player when they constantly watch baseball players skip practice and turn their backs on their teams because they are being paid $20 million instead of the $22 million they wanted?
As unfortunate as it is to say, this is the modern day professional athlete.
To paint every athlete with that brush would be grossly unfair, but let’s just say that a very large majority of modern day athletes can be painted with this brush from head-to-toe.
Tom Watson’s improbable run last week at the British Open was truly amazing for two reasons.
First, and foremost, was the fact that he was nearly 60 years old. 60 year olds are simply not meant to win or even contend at the British Open.
Second, this is one of very few occasions in the history of sports where an athlete transcended a generational gap.
Tom Watson is not supposed to contend at a major championship that contains Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey in the field.
Tom Watson won majors during the era of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson and Seve Ballesteros.
A penguin waddling around the Arizona desert would have been less out of place than Tom Watson was standing on the tee box of the 72nd hole while holding a one-stroke lead.
Ladbrokes set the odds of Watson winning the 2009 British Open at 1,000-to-1 prior to the start of the tournament.
We always hear and read about how athletes from earlier generations were more graceful in defeat, were more courteous, were more engaging with the fans, were more honest and were more apt to take responsibility for their failures.
Now, as if it were some kind of scientific experiment, we were able to look through the glass and see an athlete from yesteryear, Tom Watson, compete in the modern day sports arena.
So, were athletes from previous generations all they were cracked up to be?
Well, if even half of them were anything at all like Tom Watson, the answer would be a resounding YES.
The way Watson handled himself in the face of what would have to be one of the toughest defeats of his career is something you simply don’t see today.
Watson didn’t blame the golf gods when his approach shot on the 72nd hole hit the green and took off as if it had just landed on a spring board.
Watson didn’t sit in the interview room and blame the strong cross winds for his errant shots in the playoff.
Heck, he didn’t even bring up the most legitimate excuse of all time– that’s he’s 60 years old and simply didn’t have much left in the tank during the playoff with Stewart Cink.
Nope, Watson was honest and shouldered all of the blame for not closing out the tournament when he had the chance.
Following his dreadful performance against Cink in the 4-hole playoff, Watson was graceful in defeat and could be seen smiling with his arm around Cink as the two of them looked at the names engraved on the Claret Jug.
Watson didn’t decline to speak with the press after the tournament and he didn’t sit in the interview room pouting and making excuses. He was courteous and honest.
Watson spoke about how this loss would rip at his gut just as all the others had during his career.
He took the blame for hitting an 8-iron over the green on the 72nd hole when a 9-iron would have clearly been the correct club.
Even when a reporter brought up the fact that he looked tired during the 4-hole playoff, Watson never once pointed to his age as a reason why he played poorly.
After he made all the rounds with the media, Watson could be seen signing every autograph asked of him as he left the clubhouse at Turnberry and as he walked into the Turnberry hotel where he was staying for the week.
Even as he was getting into the car that was there to take him from the clubhouse to the hotel, Watson got back out because he saw one last child that he had not yet signed an autograph for.
Granted, Watson does not have to deal with the same media circus that modern day athletes have to deal with day-in and day-out.
Perhaps it’s easier to deal with this sort of thing for one week, knowing that it will be over and done with and you will return to your normal life the following week.
But, the way in which Watson handled himself both on and off the golf course all week at the British Open is not something that you often see from modern day athletes.
Of course, most children don’t want to look up to a 60-year-old golfer as a role model. They are more interested in the flashy, larger than life characters that grace the football fields, baseball fields and basketball courts.
But, if you really want to teach your children about sportsmanship, honesty and taking responsibility for their actions, get yourself a copy of the 2009 British Open and use Tom Watson as your teaching tool.
Younger generations of sports fans typically roll their eyes when the older folks talk about how the ‘golden era’ of sports is over.
But, as is so often the case, perhaps the ‘older folks’ are correct.
By Martin Fitzpatrick… All tied up with three holes left to play?
Not a problem.
There was no “deer caught in headlights look” as Tiger Woods stepped onto the tee at the par-five 16th hole knowing full well that this was probably his final opportunity to seize the lead from Hunter Mahan, who had blistered Congressional Country Club earlier in the day with a course record-tying 62.
Woods meticulously laid up on the 16th after his drive found the left rough. Following a substandard pitch shot from just 33 yards, there was still not an ounce of worry on his face as he lined up the 19-foot birdie putt that would give him the outright lead with just two holes left to play.
Woods calmly rolled in the 19-footer with the same ease that most amateurs sink two-foot tap-ins.
“I put myself in a spot where I had to make a 20-footer to even give myself a lead,” Woods said after his round. “If I don’t make that putt, then the last two holes, you can make bogey and lose the golf tournament. So it was an important putt to make.”
While the thousands of spectators in the gallery were screaming at the top of their lungs, Woods slowly walked towards the hole to retrieve his ball while nodding his head as if to say, “Sorry young guns, but I still know how to win a golf tournament.”
Following a par on the 17th hole, Woods stepped onto the tee box at the treacherous par-four 18th, needing a par to win the tournament outright and avoid a sudden death playoff with Mahan.
Once again, there was not an ounce of concern on Woods’ face.
In recent years, it seems as if most tour professionals that find themselves in this situation look as terrified as a Wall Street CEO about to address a room full of livid shareholders.
Woods, on the other hand, looked as if he was just out for a Sunday afternoon stroll with his good buddy Steve Williams.
Woods striped a three wood right down the middle of the fairway, knocked his approach shot to 17 feet, and calmly two-putted for the win.
No big deal, just business as usual—which is exactly what separates Woods from the rest.
Young guns Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan were nipping at Woods’ heels all afternoon.
Mahan was in the clubhouse at 12 under par, and Kim, who was playing alongside Woods in the final pairing, held a one-stroke lead over Woods through the first four holes before he began to drop off.
However, as we have seen time and time again, Woods did what he needed to do to win.
Woods needed a birdie down the stretch to avoid a sudden death playoff with Mahan, so he sank a 19-foot birdie putt on the par-five 16th hole.
“I was just kind of getting into my own little world,” Woods said. “I tend to do that when the situation gets that way. I tend to get wrapped up in what I’m doing and where I need to place the ball, how I need to get it there, and you just get wrapped up in that and you forget what’s going on around you.”
Want to know how to win a golf tournament?
It’s quite simple, really.
Just get it done down the stretch.
Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done. But Tiger Woods’ ability to do what he needs to do on the back nine on Sunday is what puts him head and shoulders above the rest—it’s as simple as that.
By Martin Fitzpatrick… There was really only one way for Kenny Perry to put the disappointment of the 2009 Masters behind him once and for all: win.
Not only did Kenny Perry win last week at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., he also did so in unbelievably convincing fashion.
In the PGA Tour’s long and illustrious history, only four players have ever had better scoring weeks than Perry did last week at TPC River Highlands.
Not only did Perry’s 258 tie for the fourth-best scoring week in PGA Tour history, it was also the lowest score ever recorded in the 57-year history of the Travelers Championship.
Perry is a polite, soft-spoken man, so he would never in a million years stand up in front of a crowd or room full of reporters and scream at the top of his lungs, “The Masters is over and done with!”
However, if his golf clubs and particularly his confident demeanor on the back nine on Sunday could do his talking for him, that’s exactly what they would have said.
Perry went out and took the 2009 Travelers Championship, which is something that’s become a bit of a novelty in this day and age of the game.
Perry was playing solid but by no means exceptional golf through the first seven holes on Sunday.
It was on the par-three eighth where the momentum would swing to Perry’s corner and remain there for the rest of the afternoon.
Paul Goydos, the 54-hole leader, lost his lead to Perry after Perry got up and down from a green-side bunker for a birdie on the par-five sixth.
But following just an average approach shot by tour standards, Goydos rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-four seventh to tie Perry for the tournament lead at 17-under-par.
This would be the last time Goydos would hold a share of the lead during the 2009 Travelers Championship. Kenny Perry was about to turn on the afterburners and never look back.
Perry hit a five-iron to less than three feet from the hole on the par-three eighth. When Goydos three-putted from the fringe for a bogey, it was a two-stroke swing.
“Eight was the sweetest five-iron I’ve hit in a long time” Perry said after his round in Cromwell. “That sucker never left the flag. Looked like it was going in, and it just kind of creeped off to the left and I had a three-footer, tapped in.”
Perry caught a bad break on the par-four ninth when his ball partially embedded in a hill that could have been mistaken for quicksand due to all the rain that had swept through the area in recent days.
The best Perry could do was punch his ball back out into the fairway, and with Goydos already on the green and only six feet from the hole, it was looking as if there would now be a another two-stroke swing in the other direction.
However, Perry’s pitch shot checked up eight feet from the hole, where he would go on to sink the putt, while Goydos was unable to convert on his birdie opportunity.
During the course of any round, there is often one single shot that is crucial to keeping a player’s momentum going, and for Kenny Perry, it was his eight-foot par putt on the ninth hole.
“My putter was on today,” Perry said. “I knew I was putting well. I rolled that one in to perfect speed. Slipped in the right side of the hole. That was a nice momentum-saver to keep the round going.”
Perry went on to birdie the 10th and 11th, just missed a birdie putt on the par-five 13th, and lipped out his birdie putt on the 14th.
On the 296 yard par-four 15th, Perry put his opponents up against the ropes. After hitting his tee shot just short of the green, Perry would get up and down for birdie and extend his lead to two strokes over a charging David Toms and three strokes over Goydos, despite Goydos’ eagle two on the hole.
Goydos followed his eagle at the 15th with an impressive birdie at the par-three 16th to pull within two strokes of Perry with just two holes to play.
A two-stroke lead with just two to play?
Sound eerily similar to the 2009 Masters?
But this was neither Augusta National nor the Masters, and this Perry had learned from the mistakes of his past.
“That deal taught me a lot today,” Perry said of the 2009 Masters.
“To think all I gotta do is make two pars to win a tournament, and I couldn’t get it done. I really played heavy the way I played that back nine today. I knew there was so many guys right there in contention that could catch me. David was playing great in front of us. I was looking at the leaderboard watching on the back side, so I knew I had to keep making birdies. So I wasn’t going to let up. I wasn’t going to play defensive golf, and I learned something from that mistake.”
Perry would deliver the knockout punch in the form of a seven iron he hit to less than seven feet on the par-four 17th. He would go on to make birdie and extend his lead to three strokes heading to the 72nd hole.
“That gave me a three-shot cushion, to make the 18th hole, where I didn’t have to stress out. I knew pretty much anybody could probably play that hole and win the golf tournament,” Perry said.
Last week, Perry put on one of the finest displays of golf seen on the PGA Tour in quite some time.
Perry opened with a 61 and closed with a 63, which could have easily been another 61 had several birdie putts decided to fall rather than lip out on Sunday.
The win, which was his second of the 2009 season and fifth in the past two years, moves Perry to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and jumps him to fourth in the World Golf Rankings.
During the trophy presentation, which was hosted by ESPN’s Chris Berman, a jacket was placed upon Perry’s back. The jacket was navy blue and not green. But to Kenny Perry, it must have felt almost as sweet.
By Martin Fitzpatrick… CROMWELL, CT - After Lucas Glover calmly rolled in his three-foot putt to win the US Open, he didn’t jump out of his spikes with joy, toss his putter fifty feet in the air or run around the green pumping his fist.
He simply sunk the biggest putt of his life, shook a few hands, hugged his wife and family, and went off to sign his scorecard.
Some might have viewed Glover’s celebration, or lack-there-of, as dull and boring.
Perhaps Lucas Glover didn’t provide the same theatre that other players do through their often animated, and intense celebrations, but then that’s just not Lucas Glover.
At no time during the U.S. Open did Glover stray from either his game or personality. Why would he start on the 72nd hole of the tournament?
When he arrived at the Traveler’s Championship, just forty eight hours after his improbable US Open victory, Glover was still the same quiet, shy, and at times, overly polite man he always is.
Glover walked into the press room with his face barely visible under his Nike hat which was pulled down so low, it’s a wonder he could even see where he was going.
As his name was announced and all eyes turned on the newly crowned US Open champion, Glover lowered his head and looked more like a young boy who had been caught by his mother in a mischievous act than a man who had just won one of the largest golf tournaments on the face of the planet.
There was not a drop of arrogance or overconfidence in him. He had gone from a little known touring pro, to a national celebrity literally overnight.
In this day and age when we are constantly subjected to NFL and NBA players involved in taunting celebrations after every single play, when we watch baseball players sit at home rather than attend training camp because they are being paid $20 million instead of the $22 million they want, Lucas Glover can be seen as a refreshing change.
Glover sat in front of the microphone and answered questions with, “Yes, sir’s” and “No, sir’s”.
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, he was the one that just won a major championship less than two days ago.
After his US Open victory at Bethpage on Monday afternoon, Glover spent all of Tuesday in New York City making appearances on Regis & Kelly, The Letterman Show and several radio shows.
“I don’t crave the attention I got yesterday. But it was there, and it was really fun. I don’t think I could do that every day. But it was a good time” Glover said.
When asked if he every considered skipping the Traveler’s Championship after he had won the Open, Glover responded by saying “No, sir. I was committed before the US Open. I was committed to here next weekend, John Deere, I’m going to keep those commitments. I feel that’s the right thing to do. Just because I won a golf tournament doesn’t change anything. I was committed, and I’m going to honor that commitment”.
“I’ve got to use last week as a spring board….I don’t want to fizzle out after two wins or after one big one. I want to use that as motivation to keep getting better and back in that situation. I’m not planning on winning five majors in the next four years. I’m planning on getting back into contention. And to do that, I’m going to have to keep working because everybody else is. Just because I won one doesn’t mean I deserve to be there again” said Glover.
Lucas Glover may not be flashy, loud, or even recognizable to most non-hardcore golf fans, but who says that a major champion has to be flashy?
Locus Glover’s reserved and modest personality is just fine with him, and it should be just fine with the rest of us.
By Martin Fitzpatrick… If this weather continues, Steve Williams may need to carry Tiger Woods’ bag while navigating through Bethpage Black’s fairways in a rowboat.
The US Open was a complete washout today, and there is a lot more rain on the way.
Play was suspended at 10:15 am and officially cancelled for the day at around 1:00 pm.
“The volume of rain falling was outpacing our ability to squeegee the greens, that was the bottom line. The greens just became unplayable and we needed to suspend.” said USGA Chairman, Jim Hyler.
Play is currently scheduled to resume at 7:30 am tomorrow morning. But, there’s only one problem with that—it has not stopped raining all day, and more rain is in the forecast for tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.
At this rate, it may be Wednesday before a US Open champion is finally crowned.
Bethpage Black is long and difficult enough as it is. If the rain continues, the fairways and greens will turn into a swamp and eliminate any roll that players normally receive on their drives. In short, players will literally be playing all 7,400-plus yards of this brutally difficult golf course, and will likely be attempting to do so in more rain and wind.
Mother Nature may have just swooped in and taken away any hope the shorter hitters in the field had of plotting their way around Bethpage Black and contending this week.
If the weather was decent, the winning score for the week could have been five-under-par or more considering the receptive greens, widened fairways, and graduated rough.
With the weather that’s forecasted over the next three days, it will be a truly heroic performance if someone shoots around even par for the tournament.
There is a 50 percent chance of rain tomorrow morning, with some clearing during the early afternoon and a chance of more rain later in the day.
Saturday is typically known as moving day, but with a 70 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, the only moving that is likely to be done on Saturday will be in the form of players lifting their arm to change the channels in their hotels rooms.
And it doesn’t look much better for Sunday.
There is a 60 percent chance of rain on Sunday morning with a 40 percent chance of showers later in the day.
Could the USGA just reschedule the Open?
Although the shorter hitters in the field might be praying for that, the US Open will not be rescheduled; it will finish at Bethpage eventually, whether it’s this week or early next week.
Tiger Woods, who took his raincoat off and put it back on at least 10 times today, better have Nike overnight him some comfortable rain gear, because he’ll need it all weekend.
Prepare for high scores and ugly conditions over the next few days.
This is not San Diego or Torrey Pines. This is New York in the late spring and it’s already rained 15 out of 18 days this month.
By Martin Fitzpatrick… He’s young, he’s famous, he’s good-looking, and he’s extremely wealthy.
When he’s not travelling the world playing golf for a living, he’s surfing on one of Australia’s magnificent beaches, frolicking with actresses in Hawaii, or signing papers for the purchase of his brand new Gulfstream jet.
In essence, Adam Scott is living a life that most men can only envision in their wildest dreams.
Off the course, life is certainly good for the 28-year-old Australian.
On the course, however, life seems to have thrown Scott into a sand trap.
To say that Scott has been struggling this season would be a severe understatement for a player that was ranked as high as No. 3 in the World Golf Rankings just a year ago.
Scott, who will defend his title at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, has missed the cut at five consecutive events leading up to the Bryon Nelson.
But, to fully understand Scott’s free-fall in the world of golf, we need to go back and start in 2008.
Following one of the best seasons of his career in 2007 (where Scott had a win, eight top-25 finishes, and earned more than $3.4 million on the PGA Tour), he took a nose dive in 2008.
In fairness to Adam Scott, his decline was not simply due to some kind of mental breakdown or a lack of effort on his part in 2008; the Australian suffered several injuries and setbacks both on and off the golf course.
At the start of the 2008 season, Scott parted ways with his girlfriend of seven years.
For most hardened, “I’m tougher than most” sports fans, this would seem like a lame excuse. But in golf, the mental game is just as important—if not more important—than the physical. Even the slightest lapse in a player’s concentration can be detrimental to performance.
Despite separating with his long-time girlfriend, Scott began the 2008 season right where he left off the previous year. He had four top-25 finishes and a win in his first six events in 2008.
As if Scott was not battling enough mental strain from off-the-course issues, just days prior to the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, he slammed his pinkie finger in a car door which resulted in a fractured bone.
Despite playing with a broken finger, Scott still managed to finish tied for 26th at the U.S. Open, and then went on to tie for 16th at his next event, the British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Maybe things were looking up for Scott?
Or, maybe the 2008 season still had a few more surprises to throw his way.
Following the British Open, Scott began to experience a terrible soreness in his throat, which was accompanied by lesions and, at times, a swelling of the throat that made it difficult from him to simply breathe.
During the period that Scott was plagued by this mysterious illness, he missed two-of-five cuts and didn’t finish within the top-50 at any event.
As you could imagine, Scott was gravely concerned about this mysterious illness that was making it difficult for him to breathe and draining all the energy he had right out of his body.
Scott went back to Australia and underwent a series of tests which ultimately uncovered that he was battling a severe, recurring case of tonsillitis.
So his finger was healed, his tonsillitis was being treated, and he had a year of distance from the painful break-up he had gone through with his girlfriend of seven years.
A player as talented as Adam Scott would surely have to get back on track in 2009, right?
Well, Scott’s year-long nightmare in 2008 as not quite over yet.
Just a couple of weeks prior to the start of the 2009 season, Scott dislocated his kneecap while surfing in Australia.
This being the sixth time he had dislocated that same kneecap, Scott opted not to undergo surgery as he had always been quick to recover from this injury in the past.
Scott’s knee did not seem to be an issue during his first two PGA Tour events in Hawaii.
He finished in a tie for 18th at the Mercedes-Benz Championship in January, and then tied for second the following week at the Sony Open.
Scott’s second-place finish at the Sony Open was the last time he would experience even a hint of success during the 2009 season.
Scott tied for 66th at the WGC-CA Championship in Miami in March and then proceeded to miss five consecutive cuts leading up to this week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship.
When asked about his struggles during his press conference yesterday at the Byron Nelson Championship, Scott said, “Obviously I haven’t been playing well the last few weeks. It was disappointing to miss the cut at the Masters and THE PLAYERS by just one shot because I didn’t play all that badly, and I really felt like I needed to get some more rounds under my belt and missing the cut doesn’t get that accomplished.”
Scott is only 28-years-old and has already won six times on the PGA Tour.
His swing is a picture of perfection, and if a tiny flaw does happen to find its way into his swing, he has world-renowned swing coach, Butch Harmon, there to fix it.
Players have completely lost their game for no apparent reason before and it will undoubtedly happen again in the future.
But, Scott is still overcoming some of the physical and mental disasters that plagued for most of last season.
Will he ever get back to his top form?
There’s no telling for sure, but in all likelihood he will eventually rediscover his game.
When that will actually happen is the biggest question.
“Really I think it’s just maybe that one round that will turn it around, a good, solid round where I play some solid golf, because that’s what I haven’t been doing,” Scott said yesterday in Texas.
“It hasn’t been consistent. I can play good for nine holes or 14 holes, but then I’ll hit a couple wild shots and get myself in a bit of trouble. I think it’s just one round away from being back on track again. I think the confidence will come with just that one round.”
Just maybe, that one good round that Scott has been after for the past two months will come at this week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship.
By Martin Fitzpatrick… Tiger Woods has nothing to prove.
He will eventually regain his top form and he will undoubtedly go on to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors and Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins.
There is no need to start panicking or asking ourselves whether or not Tiger Woods will ever be the same player he was prior to his 2008 knee surgery.
After all, between late 2002 and 2004, Woods did not win a major championship in ten opportunities and every fan, player and analyst were almost certain that Woods had either lost his game or the competition had risen to a point where he was no longer able to dominate the PGA Tour.
Oh, how wrong we all were.
That being said, this time is a little bit different.
First and foremost, back in 2002-2004, Woods’ struggles were due almost solely to a swing change he was in the process of undertaking. Right now, Woods is certainly struggling with some swing changes he was forced to make in order to relieve some of the pressure on his surgically repaired left knee.
But he is also recovering from a major knee surgery and more than eight months away from the game.
Woods’ return to the PGA Tour has actually been stronger than what we should have expected from a player who had not competed in more than eight months.
In the five stroke-play events he has attended since returning to the tour in February, Woods has four top-10 finishes and a win. Not too shabby.
However, although he has yet to finish outside of the top-10 since his return, he has been nowhere near the same dominant player he was just prior to his knee surgery in June of 2008.
The fact that Woods has severely struggled with his game yet has still managed to win an event and finish within the top-10 in every stroke play tournament t he’s attended, is a clear sign as to just how dominant Woods can be once his game returns to it’s top form.
But the way in which Woods has struggled from tee to green is certainly a cause for concern.
What’s at stake right now is not Woods’ legacy or even the thought that he may never be the same player again.
What’s at stake right now is his most important advantage of them all—his aura of invincibility.
Prior to the 2008 US Open, Woods was in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches of his career. Then, he went out and won the US Open at Torrey Pines while playing on one leg, which pretty much putt the icing on the cake in terms of every other player on tour’s belief that this guy was unbeatable.
When Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which was just his third tournament back, most of the tour would have been thinking “oh boy, here we go again.”
But, Woods has not been able to build upon his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In fact, his game has gone in the other direction over the past month.
Woods was outplayed by Phil Mickelson and came up short for the sixth time in seven years at Augusta.
Two weeks ago, at the Quail Hollow Championship, Woods opened with a 65 and held the tournament lead after 18-holes. Although Woods two more average rounds resulted in Woods loosing the tournament lead, he was still easily within striking distance on Sunday at Quail Hollow.
Two-under par on the back-nine at Quail Hollow would have forced a sudden death playoff with Sean O’Hair. Three-under-par would have given Woods his second win in just four events.
The Tiger Woods we have become so accustomed to seeing would have undoubtedly made a run at Sean O’Hair two Sundays ago. But, Woods was unable to get anything going and had to scratch and claw his way around the back-nine just to shoot and even par round of 72.
Last week at the Players Championship, Woods was in the final pairing and once again in position to make a charge.
Woods began the round five-strokes behind the leader, Alex Cjeka. But, by the fourth hole, Cejka had completely collapsed and the Players Championship was up for grabs amongst a dozen or so players who were within just a few strokes of the lead.
Henrik Stenson went out and blistered TPC Sawgrass with a final round score of 66, while Woods spent his day in the trees, sand traps and water en-route to a final round 73 and an eighth place finish.
Once again, you would have to believe that the Tiger Woods of old would have gone out and snatched the Players Championship with both hands on Sunday afternoon.
With each duck-hook off the tee, pushed wedged, missed ten-foot putt and tournament that goes by without seeing the Tiger Woods of old, the more each and every player on tour begins to truly believe that he can take down the mighty Tiger Woods.
A highly talented player is difficult enough to beat. But, a highly talented player who now has the confidence and genuine belief that he can beat you is that much more difficult to defeat.
And that’s what’s at stake for Woods right now.
The confidence that the rest of the field is building with each additional un-tigerlike shot he hits, will make it that much more difficult for Woods to defeat these guys once his game is back to its form.
One of Woods’ biggest weapons on the course is not his driver nor his putter, but his aura of invincibility.
Woods enters a final-round pairing on Sunday knowing that there was no way he can lose, while his playing partners are just hoping to play well enough to take home that second place prize money. This is one of the main reasons why Woods has never lost a major championship while holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
Woods needs to win again, and not because he is in desperate of adding to his 66 PGA Tour wins.
He needs to win again, and often, in order to get back his mental edge and eliminate any sense of vulnerability other players might be seeing in his game right now.
The competition is nipping at his heels and there are many highly talented young players who are gaining more and more confidence with each wayward shot Woods hits.
Woods is under the gun right now because he is beginning to loose his biggest and most important advantage of them all—his aura of invincibility.
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