Don't expect any complacency from Tiger
If you left the couch to grab a quick snack at about 4:46 p.m. ET on Sunday, you missed the Buick Invitational.
Yup, the entire thing. The whole shebang. An entire week's worth of golf was summarily compressed into one minute, in which leader Andrew Buckle and contender Jeff Quinney each posted double-bogeys and Tiger Woods followed with a birdie that moved him into first place for good.
Just call it "Gone in 60 Seconds."
The result, of course, was another Tiger title, his third straight at the Buick and fifth overall at Torrey Pines. The Weekly 18 begins with Woods' acknowledgment that the best is yet to come.
"I'm just plugging along, trying to get better."
These weren't the words of Charles Howell III, who finished in second place at the Buick. Didn't come from the mouth of Buckle or Quinney, each of whom were in contention for their first PGA Tour title.
Nope, instead this was a direct quote from Woods, speaking to a Golf Channel reporter after his most recent victory. And it says everything we could ever want to know about him.
It tells us this guy doesn't understand the meaning of complacency. Fifty-five PGA Tour wins? Seven straight titles? A gazillion dollars in career earnings? Whereas such accomplishments would mean a career fulfilled for most players, with renewed short-term goals of "takin' it easy" and "just chillin'," Tiger simply shrugs at such notions and continues to work on his game. It's an admirable quality that only suggests he will continue to challenge himself to reach greater goals in his on-course pursuits.
It tells us Woods continues to remain humble in the face of success. Unlike in other sports, there are no end zone dances or chest-thumpings in golf. But if one player was ever able to point to himself and say, "I'm the greatest," it's Tiger. And yet, he's never done this, never belittled his competition with comments of superiority nor claimed his talents to be unrivaled by others. It will be a snowy day in La Jolla, Calif., before we ever see Woods guarantee victory.
It tells us he really feels like there's room for improvement. Professional golfers of the world, take cover. Woods might be the most dominant player around, but he thinks there are still holes in his game -- and he intends to fix them. What are they? Let's look at some stats from the Buick. Off the tee, Woods hit less than half the fairways during the week, ranking T-55 overall. His putting was pretty solid when he needed it to be, saving plenty of pars throughout, but only ranked T-22. Even on the par-5 holes, usually a gold mine for Tiger, he failed to live up to usual standards; he played a total of 12 par-5s on the South Course this week, and made six pars.
Woods often speaks in generalities and rhetoric, but not when it comes to his game. When he says he's "trying to get better," we'd better listen. He means it.
This week's proof that Tiger might be just like you and us: In Friday's second round at the South Course, standing over his second shot from 235 yards in a fairway bunker on the par-5 18th hole, Woods hit a 5-wood that came out low, nipped the lip of the bunker and rolled harmlessly down the fairway, stopping a mere yard or two from the water hazard guarding the left side. It was the closest thing we've ever seen to Tiger topping a shot. "I was trying to hit it thin," he told Golf Channel. "but just cut the hell out of it." From there, he made par.
This week's proof that Tiger is nothing like you and us: In Saturday's third round at the South Course, standing over his second shot from 235 yards in a fairway bunker on the par-5 18th hole -- and with the memory of the previous day's topped shot still fresh in his mind -- Woods again hit a 5-wood, this time keeping it farther right and carrying the green. "Into the wind, I would probably lay up, use a sand wedge and spun it back down the hill," he said. "But downwind, no way getting it close. So may as well trying to get it over the back of the bunker or over the green where I put it and try to get up and down from there." Like on Friday, Woods made par from there, but the fact that he was undeterred by his most recent error on the hole speaks volumes about his confidence.
This week's proof that Tiger Woods isn't crazy: In Sunday's final round at the South Course, standing over his second shot from 235 yards in a fairway bunker on the par-5 18th hole, Woods simply laid up short of the green -- and the hazard. His third shot spun back off the front of the green, but Woods chipped on and knocked in the par putt for his third straight score of 5, coming in in three very different ways.
It's a story that's certainly been underplayed and hardly gotten any headlines, but Woods and wife Elin are expecting their first child this summer. We write that with tongue firmly planted in cheek as the yet-to-be-born baby has already received more attention from the golf world than almost any player outside the top five. But this news is just in: Woods won't be the first professional golfer to have a child. Despite the concern being given to Tiger and Elin's child, it's actually a pretty frequent occurrence on tour. The latest? Ryan Palmer, who was eight shots off the lead having just finished his third hole at the Buick on Sunday when he learned that his wife, Jennifer, was about to give birth to their first child, according to the Associated Press. Woods got plenty of folks to raise an eyebrow when, earlier this week, he said, "If [Elin]'s going to have it during the week of the [British] Open, I just don't go. That's the most important thing, not a golf tournament." As Palmer's WD proved, that's not such an uncommon theme.
Howell can't be too pleased about his 10th career runner-up finish and second of the season, but at least he knew Woods was a tough act to catch on Sunday. "Anytime you're trying to win a tournament against that guy, it's tough," Howell said. "He just never flinched." At least Howell can take solace in the fact that he has some lofty company among those in the close-but-no-cigar category. Here are the players with the most second-place results since 2000:
|PGA Tour results, since 2000|
|Davis Love III||14||6|
|Charles Howell III||10||1|
Brandt Snedeker shot a first-round 61, led the Buick for three days and finished in third place ... and yet, he still might not own the best athletic achievement of anyone in his high school class come next Sunday. That's because fellow Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville) 1999 alum Hunter Hillenmeyer is a starting linebacker for the Chicago Bears, who will play in the upcoming Super Bowl. Snedeker and Hillenmeyer didn't just share athletic achievements at MBA, though; they both attended Vanderbilt, too.
If you only pay attention to the PGA Tour, it might seem like the careers of Retief Goosen and Ernie Els, which have always seen intriguing parallels, are in steady decline. Neither has won on U.S. soil in a few years (Goosen at the '05 International; Els at the '04 Memorial) and neither has competed in a tour event in 2007. Don't be fooled, though. With his win at this week's Qatar Masters, which included a breathtaking final-hole eagle to clinch the title, Goosen earned his fourth international victory since his last on the PGA Tour. Likewise, Els looks like he has regained elite status since a knee injury cut short his 2005 season. His third-place finish in Qatar came on the heels of a win at the South African Open last month. It will be interesting to see how these two fare upon returning to the U.S.
This just in: Retief Goosen made a funny. OK, so maybe he isn't exactly George Lopez (sorry, we don't think Lopez is funny, either, yet PGA Tour mandates all comedian references to be about him), but here's what the usually stoic South African had to say about coming up short of a course-record 63 in the opening round of the Qatar Masters, a score that would have netted him -- or any player in the field -- a brand new BMW: "I thought there was a pretty good chance of getting myself to 10-under here and maybe driving home, but it's a long way to drive." For the record, no player got closer to claiming the Beemer all week.
In a recent ESPN.com chat, we were posed with the question: Who is the best left-handed golfer in the world? Whether the inquisitor doubts Phil Mickelson's talents or simply forgot about the world's fourth-ranked player, the query had an easy answer. Perhaps the better question would have been: Who is the second-best left-handed golfer in the world? While Mike Weir tries to recover from back-to-back winless seasons, two of the candidates were on display in Qatar, with Nick O'Hern and Richard Green finishing second and T-4, respectively.
The Weekly 18 has no problem with the current AT&T promotion in which one lucky fan will win a chance to caddie for Camilo Villegas at Pebble Beach in a few weeks. (Though we suspect Camilo will be pacing off yardages and selecting his own clubs throughout the tournament.) We do, however, have a problem with the promotion's television advertisement, which has gotten plenty of airtime lately. Note to the voice-over lady: It's "bee-JAY-gus." If the guy's going to lend his name to this deal, the least you can do is pronounce it correctly.
The PGA Tour released a new TV advertisement this week that actually makes those featuring Retief Goosen and Chad Campbell boring by comparison. (Tough to believe, we know.) The FedEx Cup spot features Adam Scott making a putt with Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson watching among the gallery, with the tagline, "This season, history will be watching." Not a bad effort from the folks in the Ponte Vedra promo department.
Poor Ross Marcano. An assistant pro at Barona Creek GC, he qualified for the last two PGA Tour events (plus the upcoming Nissan Open) by winning the 2006 SoCal PGA Championship. Nothing wrong with that, certainly, but Marcano might be in a little over his head, finishing dead last at both the Buick (87-75) and the Bob Hope (79-85-75-81). Here's hoping the third time's a charm.
If Parker McLachlin finds a profitable result at this week's FBR Open, he might want to buy dinner for Jeff Quinney. That's because the latter was originally one of five sponsor's exemptions for the Scottsdale, Arizona-based event, but played so well in the season's first few tournaments that he qualified for the field on his own. That opened up an extra spot, which tourney officials granted to tour rookie McLachlin, a Hawaii native who now lives in Scottsdale. The other four exemptions were given to John Daly, Lee Janzen, Alejandro Canizares and Anthony Kim.
Good news for the likes of Chris Smith, Danny Briggs and Bob Burns. Through exactly one Nationwide Tour event, each is among those in a share of 22nd place on the money list. OK, so we might be jumping the gun a bit here -- after all, there are 31 more events on the schedule -- but those outside the top 20 can rest a bit easier this year, as it was announced recently that the tour will receive an extra five promotions to the PGA Tour for upcoming seasons, increasing the number to 25. Considering the success of ex-Nationwide players in the big leagues already this year, it's a rule change whose time had come.
And you thought the Haas family was successful. Check out the pedigree of Nationwide Tour rookie Marc Turnesa, who finished T-5 in the season-opening Movistar Panama Championship this week. According to Nationwide officials: "The Turnesa name should sound familiar to avid golf fans, as six of his relatives have played on the PGA Tour and another, Willie, won the 1938 and 1948 U.S. Amateur Championship. Some of the more notable accomplishments of the family include Turnesa's great-uncle, Jim, winning the 1952 PGA Championship, and his grandfather, Mike, winning six Tour titles and finishing second to Ben Hogan at the 1948 PGA Championship."
Fred Funk ran away with the Champions Tour's Turtle Bay Championship this week, but he'll have some bigger competition coming soon. Nick Price will make his senior circuit debut at the upcoming Allianz Championship and will be joined by six other former major winners who will turn 50 at some point this season, including Jeff Sluman, Wayne Grady, Mark O'Meara, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.
"I want to be [Tiger Woods'] child. If I was his child, I wouldn't play golf anymore. I'd be sitting in a boat somewhere spending all Dad's money. I've been trying to get him to adopt me for the last five years, but he wouldn't do it. ... Is that the quote of the week?"
-- John Daly, when asked about the impending birth of Tiger Woods' first child.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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