Tiger's setbacks, odd Zurich classic pairings
Tiger Woods underwent a procedure on his right foot and released a statement saying the surgery was successful, but it now casts serious doubt on his status for 2023. Will we see Woods make any more competitive starts this year?
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): From everything I’ve read, it seems unlikely he’ll be able to play any majors, and I don’t think he planned to play much beyond that anyway. Here’s hoping he can jump in a cart and play the PNC Championship with Charlie in December. Then, after that, maybe Riviera and the Masters. Baby steps.
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): Does the silly season count? Maybe, but that’s a big, all caps, italics and stars *MAYBE*. Who knows what he’ll be able to do with the golf swing after this surgery, which involves fusing together a joint in the ankle. I’ve heard that if it was his left foot, the surgery would be career ending. If the issue remains walking, and his recovery goes as scheduled, it sounds like we could see him at the PNC and then maybe for the start of his virtual league with Rory McIlroy, the TGL. But I don’t think we’ll hear from him at all again until the Hero World Challenge.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): He’ll absolutely be back for the PNC. Unless he isn’t. That old line about people planning and god laughing applies to any of us trying to forecast Tiger’s health. Raise your hand if you saw plantar fasciitis coming? Neck. Back. Knee. Foot. Ankle. The only thing I think we can say for sure is that it wouldn’t be a shocker if some other body part gave out next.
Looking beyond this season, as Woods’ injuries and surgeries continue to stack up, at what point does he decide enough is enough? Are we approaching that?
Berhow: Based on his schedule prior to this setback — the majors, maybe one or two more events — he’s really already in that second (or whatever number) stage of his career. I think he’s still several years away from officially “retiring,” since in a sport like golf — and with his lifetime exemption — he would be able to take advantage of a healthy stretch and enter an upcoming event or major to try and catch lightning in a bottle. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to giving up on those potential healthy starts yet.
Hirsh: I’m with Berhow on this. Obviously, just being able to walk pain-free is first and foremost, but if there’s any chance he can continue to play at a high level, he’s going to try. Whether that’s the right thing to do or not isn’t up to us to decide.
Sens: Agreed. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become like the knight in Monty Python (It’s just a flesh wound!), where everyone knows it’s over except the guy who wants to keep on fighting. This being Woods, and this being golf, which allows for more lives than any sport, I’m sure we’ll be on Tiger-watch for a large handful of majors to come.
Lilia Vu beat Angel Yin in a playoff to win the Chevron Championship and claim the LPGA’s first major of the season, which took place at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas, the first time since it began in 1972 it wasn’t held at Mission Hills following Chevron’s new title sponsorship. What are your thoughts on Year 1 of the new host venue?
Berhow: As someone who is not always big on change, I liked a lot of what I saw. Sure, the leap into Poppie’s Pond is no more and the alternative they cooked up on Sunday was fine, and word is the spectator shuttles took a little longer than desired, but it’s hard to find negatives about a sponsor that wants to invest in the women’s game. If I’m Chevron, it makes sense to move this event to their backyard. That’s their right. I also saw on Twitter there was a HBCU Career Panel taking place on site, and this was also the first time in this tournament’s history players who missed the cut received a $5,000 stipend. We’ll get used to the course in time, but seems like there’s lots of good to build on here.
Hirsh: While I’d love to see more events played at more interesting golf courses, I’m kind of indifferent on the venue change. I agree with Josh about it being great Chevron wanting to inject money into the LPGA, but it does suck it requires moving the event from where it’s developed a history at. I also hope the alligator netting actually works!
Sens: This was a tough, long course, with small greens and all sorts of trouble, and I loved Vu’s composure on it during what was a pretty packed race for a while. As for breaking with tradition, as my colleagues note, a small price in exchange for a solid sponsorship. I’m sure every player would take that guarantee over a jump into a pond.
John Daly, 56, and David Duval, 51, received sponsor’s exemptions into the Zurich Classic and missed the cut at 14 over, which was 12 behind the next-worst score. While it’s an event’s right to use its exemptions how it pleases, do you have an issue with this one in particular, given both players are well past their primes and rarely play competitively anymore?
Berhow: It really was a tough look when those guys struggled so much in alternate shot, but the truth is the majority of these pros make that format look so easily when it’s in fact so incredibly hard. In a way inviting them did exactly what it was supposed to by drawing attention to an event that lacked star power, but it’s unfortunate they didn’t play better.
Hirsh: Yes, this was a joke. It was likely born out of a necessity to help fill the field given the Zurich’s place in the schedule, but there were guys on the alternate list — while not the biggest names — who could have used the opportunity. The tournament typically requires one member of each team to be exempt and then the second can be a sponsor’s exemption. This was the case when 66-year-old Jay Haas made the cut while playing with son Bill last year. But Jay Haas is a PGA Tour Champions stud with 18 wins, albeit the last coming in 2016. Daly and Duval have combined for just one victory on the over-50 circuit.
Sens: I’m on the fence about this. I understand the obvious objections and the unlikelihood that Duval and Daly were going to be in the mix. But, as in Dumb and Dumber, even if the odds were a million to one, there was still a chance. It’s easy to knock the move in retrospect. But what if Duval and Daly had played out of their minds in the opening round and posted a decent score? Then the event would have had the best of both worlds: a crowd-pleasing pairing with an entertaining underdog story. And in the end, this is entertainment.
Speaking of the Zurich Classic, Davis Riley and Nick Hardy won, closing with a seven-under 65 in alternate shot on Sunday to best Canadians Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor by two. But you’re in charge next year. What tweaks are you making to the event, either with how teams are picked, the formats played or both?
Berhow: Since it’s a team event that’s not the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup — and honestly if we are inviting aging sponsor’s exemptions — we might as well embrace the weirdness and go all out. Fourballs is boring. Let’s go four days, four formats. Make one day a scramble, but if you go three holes without a birdie you are eliminated. Make the next day a worst-ball scramble. Round 3 you get only four clubs. Then, for the final round, alternate shot. Wait a few years and this is the formula for a fifth major.
Hirsh: For starters, I’d move it to a different part of the schedule. Maybe toward the end of January or February so it doesn’t get swallowed by the Masters. I could also see an argument for the new Fall series, but I kinda like the idea of this event counting for the FedEx Cup. It really is great to see the unique format and I’d love to see it get some more big names regularly. Next I’d drop fourball. Make the whole thing alternate shot, the true team format that doesn’t allow you to hide a poorly performing partner. That would really make things interesting with the added bonus of speeding up play.
Sens: I’m with Jack: make it all alternate shot. On a more outlandish note, I’m still waiting for the team event where each team gets one opportunity during a round to pick a fan from the crowd to hit a shot for the opposition. I suppose you’d have to institute a Really Silly Season for that to happen. But I would watch.
LPGA rookie Grace Kim wins Lotte Championship in third start as a tour player
Rookie Grace Kim clinched her first LPGA title in only her third start as a tour player. The 22-year-old Australian, who counts Karrie Webb as a mentor, smiled her way through the traditional winner’s hula dance at the Lotte Championship. The rookie shied away from nothing en route to a playoff victory over Yu Liu and Yu Jin Sung.
Kim birdied the last two holes in regulation and then birdied the 18th once again in overtime to collect the $300,000 winner’s check. She also played her way into next week’s Chevron Champions, the first major of the season.
“I guess it was a good day after all,” said Kim, who played aggressively throughout the final round.
Sung, who was trying to become the first sponsor invite to win on the LPGA since Lydia Ko in 2013, pulled out her makeup compact on the 18th tee in regulation. After the touchup, the Korean LPGA player made birdie on the last hole to join the playoff.
Sung had held at least a share of the lead since the second round, and faltered for the first time in the playoff when she thinned her third shot back over the green.
Lui was tied for 15th entering the final round and waited well over an hour for the playoff to commence. She closed with a 64 to vault into the clubhouse lead at 12 under.
Georgia Hall, the most decorated player on the board Saturday, looked poised to make a run after making a first-class par save on the ninth. Hall, a major champion, recently finished runner-up at the DIO Implant LA Open and LPGA Drive On Championship and came up short once again in Hawaii after her putter went cold down the stretch. The Englishwoman last won on the LPGA at the 2020 Portland Classic.
Sweden’s Linnea Strom battled at the top until a double-bogey on the par-4 14th gave her an uphill fight. The 2022 Epson Tour Player of the Year needed to get up and down from the front bunker for birdie on the 18th hole to get into the playoff. She closed with a 69 to take a share of fourth.
Kim is a four-time winner of the Karrie Webb Scholarship and was on hand at Hazeltine when fellow scholarship winner Hannah Green won the KPMG Women’s PGA. The scholarship comes with an all-expense-paid trip to an LPGA major with Webb.
“This win is definitely a credit to her for sure,” said Kim, who is the first rookie to win since Atthaya Thitikul captured her second 2022 victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last September.
How 13 Players Are Approaching A Whole New 13th Hole At The Masters
Kevin Kisner knows he has to lay up. On Monday, after playing the new-look par-5 13th hole, and watching Dustin Johnson project a drive that was long enough to put a midiron in his hand for the second shot into the azalea-framed green, Kisner admitted as much.
"You got to hit a perfect drive to have a chance now. I'm not ever going to hit it where DJ did," said Kisner, one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour who is at Augusta National this week. "But if I can hit a perfect one, I still have a difficult 3- or 4-iron off the sidehill lie, whereas I used to be able to get 6 or 5. It just helped the bombers more."
If there was ever any need for confirmation, Wednesday morning brought it. After taking what is now a small hike from the 12th green up to the 13th tee and retreating into the tree tunnel that now frames the 35-yard extension, Kisner hit "a perfect one" and had a decision to make.
His ball, as he predicted, was on a sidehill lie on the right side of the fairway. His playing partner, Gary Woodland, stood about 35 yards ahead as they both waited. Tony Finau and Jon Rahm in the group ahead took their time practicing different putts around the green. Both had hit long enough drives to have comfortable mid-to-long irons for their second shots. Kisner -- the ball well above his feet -- pulled a long iron and went for it, but the ball never covered Rae's Creek, bouncing short of it before tumbling down into the water.
The lengthening of Augusta's 13th hole this year has led to much chatter about not just the hole itself but the ongoing distance discussion as the USGA proposes a ball bifurcation that could control how far professionals hit the ball. But beyond the nature of the game's ever-growing distance explosion as players get stronger and faster, the decision to lengthen the 13th hole has a simple goal in mind: Put the best players in a position to have to make a decision.