Busy week in golf: Tiger has successful back surgery, Rory gets married, Kevin Chappell gets 1st win, to name a few..
With all due respect to the fine folks in San Antonio, the biggest golf news of the week came on Thursday and it did not involve Kevin Chappell.
Tiger Woods has once again gone under the knife, this time for what seems like a much more significant procedure than his previous three surgeries since 2014. An Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion brings with it plenty of medical jargon, but it prompts a single question: What now?
By lying down on the operating table, Woods basically chalked up 2017 as his second straight lost season. When he next hits the course, he’ll either be 42 years old or close to it, and essentially two-plus years removed from being competitive on the PGA Tour.
That assumes, of course, that there will be a next time. Woods’ news release was somber enough, but the consistent harping by him and his agent that the procedure addressed “quality of life” concerns indicates that playing competitive golf probably isn’t his top priority right now.
It’s another sad chapter in a book that hasn’t had many highlights since the summer of 2013.
1. News of Woods’ surgery made his appearance earlier in the week in Missouri to announce a new course he’s building – and his participation in a two-swing PR stunt – all the more surprising.
Woods sat next to Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, for nearly an hour answering questions about his latest project, Payne’s Valley, which is expected to open in 2019. He then popped out of his chair and hit a pair of wedges in a “contest” with one of Morris’ young relatives.
The stunt was lighthearted, but it did evoke awkward flashbacks to last year’s Quicken Loans National media day once Woods rinsed his first shot. The second one, though, safely found the green.
But given the fact that Woods knew at the time that he was going under the knife the following day, it’s amazing he even picked up a club.
2. While Woods’ surgery got the brunt of the attention by week’s end, his plans for a new course in Missouri show promise.
Woods spoke at length about his vision as an architect, and it’s a well-crafted one even with only a handful of courses under his belt. He favors playability, creativity around the greens, manageable rough and a layout that keeps lost ball searches to a minimum.
Woods has hit on all those notes in a big way at Bluejack National outside Houston, which I can attest is a treat. If his first public project turns out anything close to that, folks will be flocking to the Ozarks in a few short years.
3. Unfortunately for Woods, his fashion sense hasn’t come along quite as quickly as his design acumen, as evidenced by Tuesday’s ensemble:
Granted, I am far from a fashionista. But the Twittersphere let Woods have it for his…questionable pants selection. But after news of his surgery surfaced later in the week, those same social media accounts were suddenly left to wonder when we’ll even see Woods again.
4. Hats off to Chappell, who finally managed to work his way into the winner’s circle at the Valero Texas Open.
Chappell’s stock has been on the rise for quite some time, as he notably racked up four runner-up finishes last season, including a playoff loss at the Tour Championship. But the titles proved elusive until Sunday, when he won just as all players envision it: by sinking a putt on the 72nd hole. He also added a nice, primal scream for good measure.
“Did you see that?” Chappell wrote on Instagram. “The monkey jumping off my back.”
Chappell played his way onto the Ryder Cup bubble last year, a considerable feat given his lack of hardware. But you should expect that he’ll make his red, white and blue debut this fall on Steve Stricker’s Presidents Cup squad.
5. One of the best aspects Chappell’s breakthrough win? His crunch-time interactions with caddie Joe Greiner.
The two had lengthy consultations over club choice and strategy throughout the final round, many of which were captured by the CBS audio team. It provided welcome insight into the mind of a player trying to close out his first win, as well as that of the man hoping to guide him to victory.
The discussion went all the way up until the final hole, when Greiner was vocal about how to plot Chappell’s par-5 layup options and offered some last-minute swing thoughts. Watching them celebrate the win a few minutes later, it was clearly a team victory.
6. With Chappell’s victory, the highest-ranked American without a PGA Tour win is now … Daniel Summerhays.
Summerhays is ranked No. 88 in the world and has been playing the Tour regularly since 2011. During that time he has compiled a pair of runner-ups and a solo third at last year’s PGA Championship that got him into the Masters.
Next on the list would be No. 92 Roberto Castro and No. 97 Jamie Lovemark, who lost playoffs last year at the Wells Fargo Championship and Zurich Classic, respectively.
7. Brooks Koepka may not have gotten the win in San Antonio, but he’s clearly on the rise.
Koepka struggled out of the gates in 2017, missing four out of his first six cuts without registering a top-40 result. But he won his group at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, finished T-11 at the Masters and nearly chased down Chappell in Texas.
Koepka is coming off a banner season that included his Ryder Cup debut, and he has one of the highest ceilings on Tour. He also has an understandable attitude about this week’s Zurich Classic, where he’ll pair with his brother Chase, who will make his PGA Tour debut.
“It could be interesting,” Koepka said Sunday. “We could kill each other on the second hole, or it could be awesome.”
8. Speaking of Zurich, the NOLA event gets a makeover this year with a new team format that has attracted an unusually strong field to TPC Louisiana. While the big names will get the early attention, here are a few under-the-radar duos worth the price of admission:
- Daniel Berger/Thomas Pieters
- Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay
- Branden Grace/Louis Oosthuizen
- Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown
- Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley
Conversely, here are a few head-scratching combinations – one of which surely will wind up on the leaderboard come Sunday:
- Spencer Levin/Rocco Mediate
- Bryson DeChambeau/Rory Sabbatini
- Jamie Lovemark/Luke Donald
- Kyle Reifers/Andrew Johnston
- Whee Kim/Greg Owen
9. Ian Poulter lost his full-time PGA Tour status when he missed the cut at Valero in the last start of his medical extension. But that doesn’t mean the Englishman is heading for the unemployment line.
Poulter has become a polarizing figure in recent years, leading some to bask in the schadenfreude of a former Ryder Cup assassin losing his card by 30 grand. But Poulter still has conditional status, both based on his previous tournament wins and his FedEx Cup standing, and he’s eligible to accept sponsor invites.
Poulter will likely be able to get several starts this summer off those bona fides, beginning this week at Zurich when he teams up with Geoff Ogilvy.
The real test will come in September, when he may have to head to Web.com Tour Finals to regain his card. It’s a scenario he can avoid only by turning his tepid game around in a hurry.
10. Jimmy Walker finally has a cause for the severe fatigue he has felt for months, but unfortunately it’s no easy fix.
The PGA champ revealed this week that he has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that comes from tick bites and can have chronic symptoms that are often hard to treat. Walker originally thought he had mono, but received his Lyme test results on the eve of the Masters.
While he refused to chalk up any bad play to his diagnosis, the news does shed some light on Walker’s sluggish performance in the wake of his triumph at Baltusrol. But he has turned things around recently, with five top-25s in his last seven starts, and hopefully is now on the road to recovery.
Get well, Jimmy.
It’s never good when you have to dodge golf balls at the breakfast table.
News broke over the weekend that McCain Foods had started a massive voluntary recall for frozen hash browns that “may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials.”
At this point no one has been hurt, which is always good. But we might need to get a Grill Room correspondent on the case to figure out how golf balls end up mixed with breakfast potatoes.
Is the farm next door to a driving range? Did the workers fine-tune their short games while on break? How big was the first “golf ball material” that sparked the recall? Questions abound.
Happy Birthday, We Got You A Caddie: Lydia Ko turned 20 Monday, putting a cap on her teen years that included 14 LPGA wins and two majors. She also announced the hiring of Pete Godfrey as her caddie, the 10th looper she has used since turning pro. They’ll debut together this week in Texas, where a little consistency on the bag could go a long way for the birthday girl.
Rocky Start: Curtis Luck. The top-ranked amateur turned pro last week and signed with Callaway, only to bogey his first three holes and ultimately miss the cut by a shot. No one said it’d be easy, but Luck will have plenty more opportunities – starting with the Dean & DeLuca Invitational next month.
Still Rolling: Bernd Wiesberger. The Austrian has played some great golf with little fanfare in recent months, but he finally broke through to win the Shenzhen International in a playoff over Tommy Fleetwood. Wiesberger now has eight (!) top-5 finishes since his last worldwide missed cut at the PGA Championship in July.
Still Searching: Bubba Watson. Watson made his annual pilgrimage to China for the Shenzhen event, and while he held the early lead, he couldn’t string four rounds together and ultimately tied for 26th. It continues to be a struggle for the two-time Masters champ, who hasn’t registered a top-10 finish in a full-field, stroke-play event in over a year.
Off The Market: Rory McIlroy, who tied the knot with Erica Stoll over the weekend in Ireland. The ceremony was spread across multiple days, held at an Irish castle and reportedly featured performances from Stevie Wonder and Ed Sheeran. Proof, once again, that it’s good to be Rory.
Job Well Done: McIlroy’s team. It’s hard in this day and age to keep anything truly private, but Team McIlroy managed to keep the wedding at Ashford Castle entirely under wraps, with strict security and few information leaks. Even celebrities are entitled to a little privacy on their big day should they so choose, and it’s nice to see that McIlroy got it.
El Campeon: Sergio Garcia, who put his green jacket on display Sunday when he kicked off the soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. As a Madrid fan, Garcia likely wasn’t pleased by Lionel Messi’s last-second goal to give Barca the win.
It’s the Arrow, Not the Indian: Patrick Reed. On the eve of his opener in San Antonio, Reed attributed his recent struggles to the lies and lofts being off in his irons. He declared the issue largely resolved, then missed his third straight cut after a second-round 77.
Game Matching the Hair: Ollie Schniederjans. After contending at Harbour Town, the rookie put up a solid T-18 finish at Valero to crack the OWGR top 100 for the first time in his career. A breakthrough like Chappell and Wesley Bryan had in consecutive weeks may not be far behind.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charley Hoffman. After seven straight years as the Can’t-Miss Kid in San Antonio, Hoffman put up a pedestrian T-40 finish with no score lower than his opening-round 71.
Source: Golf Channel
Who do you think is the best player to have never won a major? Sergio’s out. Rickie in?
Every Sunday night, GOLF.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine.
In his story about Sergio Garcia’s victory at the Masters, our Alan Shipnuck said that Rickie Fowler had inherited the dubious mantle of Best Player Never to Have Won a Major. That sparked a debate on Twitter, some saying that, at 28, Fowler was too young to be burdened with such a label. (Our travel guru, Joe Passov, also took a stab at the list post-Masters, placing Lee Westwood at the top.) What say you? Using your own criteria, who’s the BPNTHWAM?
Jessica Marksbury, multimedia editor, GOLF.com (@Jess_Marksbury): I’m going to give Rickie a pass here, because as good as he is, he hasn’t been in the hunt at a major championship that often. Lee Westwood is probably the best choice here, with three runner-ups, six thirds and 11 top fives—yikes! Poor guy! With three top fives and eight top 10s, I’ll cast a vote for Matt Kuchar as well.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Taking the term literally, I’ll say Doug Sanders. Allowing only for modern male players, I’ll take Lee Westwood.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Obviously I should recuse myself here but I would just like to say that I disqualified Westwood because to be the BPNTHWAM you actually have to be a threat to win one, and in the last three or four years whenever Westy has sniffed the lead in a big tournament his wedge and putter go haywire. At 43 he’s clearly way past his prime. Meanwhile, Fowler is ascendent.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): All good choices. Farther down the list, I might add Snedeker. And though it was only for an eye-blink, just five years ago, Luke Donald was the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Joe Passov, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): I’ll defend myself here, and stick with Westwood. In terms of the player with the best record, still current and at least an occasional contender, with most worldwide wins, most top fives, top 10s and close calls in majors, it’s Lee. Sure, Rickie’s the better player right now, as is Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas, but “best player NEVER to have won a major” implies that they’ve been at it awhile–which they haven’t. Give ‘em time.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – There they went – the ghosts and the demons and the goblins, all exorcised during a victory celebration he never anticipated at a course he never could have imagined.
Sergio Garcia crouched, shook his fists and unleashed a primal scream – “YESSSSS!!!” – that’s been bottled up for 19 years.
The only line missing from his otherwise stellar résumé was a major title, and now it’s his, all his, after a wild Sunday at the 81st Masters that perfectly embodied his schizophrenic career.
And then finally, after curling in his 12-foot birdie putt, Garcia was one ahead when it mattered most, defeating Justin Rose on the first playoff hole in an instant classic at Augusta National.
“Nobody deserved it more than you do,” Rose told Garcia on the 18th green. “Enjoy it.”
Often criticized in his early days for making excuses, for folding at the first sign of trouble, Garcia proved to be historically resilient. His breakthrough victory came in his 74th career major start, the most by any player in history.
Garcia proved to be just as irrepressible in the final round.
Two strokes behind on the 13th hole, he saved par from the trees, added another birdie at No. 14 to cut into the deficit, and then hit one of the most brilliant shots of his career on the par-5 15th – a high-soaring 8-iron from 189 yards that kissed the flagstick and led to an eagle.
His career has been filled with near misses, with crushing disappointments, but it was Garcia, not the U.S. Open champion Rose, who played the most sublime golf down the stretch to capture the long-awaited major title.
“Obviously this is something I wanted to do for a long time, but it never felt like a horror movie,” Garcia said. “It felt a little bit like a drama, maybe. But obviously with a happy ending.”
Before heading off property, Rose stumbled into Garcia, now donning the green jacket, at the front of the clubhouse.
“Look at this man!” Rose gushed. Then he enveloped his friend in another hug.
The Spaniard’s feel-good victory was a fitting end to a surreal Masters week, which began with no Arnie, no Tiger, no Par 3 Contest and, in the most bizarre twist of all, no world No. 1. Throughout his mostly star-crossed career, Dustin Johnson has found unimaginable ways to lose a major – including now, before it even starts. While in his Augusta rental house Wednesday he slipped on a staircase, injured his lower back, and after 24 hours of treatment couldn’t answer the bell. “It sucks really bad,” he said.
What he missed was the most brutal opening round in a decade, when players walked with their chins buried in their chest and patrons chased after their windblown hats and pairing sheets. The 40-mph gusts muted Augusta’s raucous soundtrack, and just nine players were under par after two days.
Four-time Tour winner Charley Hoffman shot a remarkable opening 65 and held the halfway lead, but the majesty of Augusta is that, eventually, the stars rise to the top of the board. By the end of a sun-splashed Saturday, Hoffman was supplanted by the likes of Garcia and Rose, with Rickie Fowler one shot behind.
Another stroke back, improbably, was Jordan Spieth, who had entered the Masters as the subject of unrelenting scrutiny after last year’s historic collapse. At first he’d politely allowed the psychoanalysis, a product of his respectful Texan upbringing, but by the time tournament week rolled around he clearly wanted to move on. And everyone did, initially, after he safely navigated the 12th in his first visit since the watery debacle. Then Spieth took another quadruple bogey, this time on the par-5 15th, and ended the opening round 10 shots behind, a major deficit that hadn’t been overcome in 119 years.
Showcasing his trademark grit, Spieth shot rounds of 69-68 and entered the final round two shots behind, in the penultimate group. It was the first time in four Masters that Spieth wasn’t in the final pairing Sunday, and yet he seemed to delight in being the go-for-broke pursuer. “Finishing fifth versus 10th doesn’t mean much to me,” he said, “so that frees me up a bit.” Perhaps too much. He went out in 38, rinsed another tee shot on 12 and dropped out of the top 10.
Spieth and Garcia couldn’t have had more wildly different experiences at this place. Ever since he arrived here as a 19-year-old, Spieth and Augusta have gone together as well as egg salad and lemonade, or sundresses and the sixth hole. Garcia, meanwhile, has had a particularly tortured relationship with the old nursery. It was here eight years ago that he dismissed the home of the Masters as unfair and “too much of a guessing game.” And it was here five years ago, after enduring nothing but major heartbreak, that he conceded, “I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have.”
Never mind that he was a 30-time winner around the world, a Ryder Cup hero.
“Because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about, Am I ever going to win one?” he said Sunday night. “I’ve had so many good chances, and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me. So it did cross my mind.
“But lately, I’ve been getting some good help, and I’ve been thinking a little bit different, a little bit more positive. And accepting too, that if for whatever reason it didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on. It’s not going to be a disaster.”
Now 37 and three months from getting married, Garcia was downright buoyant between the pines. He playfully chatted with his fellow playing competitors and showed no signs of the historic major burden, his 12 major top-5s the most by any winless player in the past 75 years.
“It’s the same Sergio that people have known and loved,” said his fiancée, Angela Akins. “But he’s just been working really hard on his game off the golf course. He’s been focused on his mental game. He’s done an incredible job.”
The golf gods seemed to reward Garcia’s newfound perspective and upbeat attitude, whether it was his hooked tee shot ricocheting off a tree and bouncing back into the fairway in the second round, or his approach into 13 somehow hanging on the bank above Rae’s Creek on Saturday. Those fortuitous breaks allowed Garcia to take his first share of the 54-hole major lead in a decade – on what would have been the 60th birthday of one of his heroes, Seve Ballesteros.
Earlier in the week, two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal wrote Garcia a note of encouragement – just as Ballesteros had done before Ollie’s 1994 Masters victory.
“I’m not sharing my locker at the moment,” Olazabal wrote to Garcia, “and I hope that I get to do it with you.”
“I really believe that he has all the tools to win around here, or any major,” Olazabal said Sunday morning. “He’s been so close a couple of times.”
Just not on this course. Not until Sunday.
Leaving the fifth green, Garcia was 2 under for the day and staked to a three-shot lead. That advantage disappeared quickly, as Rose poured in three consecutive birdies before the turn.
They headed to the back nine tied at 8 under par, but Garcia made back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11 to fall off the pace. When he overcooked his tee shot into the trees on 13, and needed to take an unplayable lie from the azaleas, he seemed destined for an all-too-familiar ending.
“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, ‘Oh, why doesn’t it go through?’ or whatever,” he said. “But I was like, well, if that’s what’s supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great 5 here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. And if not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.”
Garcia made that unlikely par, then birdied the 14th after stiffing his approach shot to 5 feet. On 15, after nuking a 344-yard drive, he nearly flew his approach into the cup, leaving him a 14-foot putt that he dropped over the front lip to share the lead.
In the playoff, Rose found trouble off the tee, pitched out and made bogey. Needing only two putts for the win, Garcia coolly poured in the winning putt.
No longer is he the best player without a major. No longer is he the player who came so close, so often.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more than winning the Masters,” said Garcia’s father, Victor. “It’s the best thing ever!”
When the final putt dropped, when the major weight was lifted, Garcia looked in disbelief at his caddie, Glen Murray, and then held him tight. He blew kisses to the crowd. The patrons chanted his name.
About 100 yards away, in the packed clubhouse grill, a shrill voice rang out.
“Happy birthday, Seve!”
Victor Garcia was sobbing.
Source: Golf Channel