Tag:steve elling
Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:18 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 6:00 pm
 

Woods heading back to familiar haunts -- Bay Hill

By Steve Elling 

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- With these two in the field, it won’t matter much that many of the top internationals aren't heading to Orlando in two weeks.

Tiger Woods announced Monday that he will play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational later this month, joining another popular past champion, Phil Mickelson, in the event hosted by the legendary golfer and tournament namesake.

Woods has titles at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. He was T24 last year and won the first of his three consecutive U.S. Junior titles there.

It's a busy stretch for the former world No. 1, now ranked 16th globally. He will have played four times in six weeks by the end of the Masters in April.

Mickelson posted on his website last week that he was playing at Bay Hill, where he won in 1997. The tournament starts March 22.

Though it won't be formally announced until Wednesday, Woods will play in Orlando's Tavistock Cup on March 19-20 at Lake Nona, representing the six-man team from Albany, a course in the Bahamas. There are four six-man teams in the event and the full rosters will be released Wednesday.

Rory McIlroy, the newly minted world No. 1, is taking three weeks off after competing this week at the Cadillac Championship outside Miami, where Woods and Mickelson also are entered. Several other top international players instead are playing the week after Bay Hill, in Houston, as a tune-up to the Masters, including Lee Westwood.

Woods and Mickelson were paired in the final round at Pebble Beach last month, where Mickelson shot 64 to come from six strokes back to win.

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Posted on: March 4, 2012 5:37 pm
 

Rory McIlroy's world ranking by the numbers

Rory McIlroy walking into the history books at the Honda Classic. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- In the United Kingdom, they call it a CV, which is shorthand for curriculum vitae.

In the United States, we'd more commonly call it a resume.

By whatever title, when Rory McIlroy officially climbs to the top of the new world rankings issued on Monday, it will be a watershed achievement and yet another juicy item worthy of note on his individual highlight chart.

Here are some fast statistical, biographical and geographical facts about his rapid ascendance:

* Since the ranking was established in 1986, he's the 16th player to climb the ratings mountain, and the second-youngest at 22 years, 9 months and 29 days. 

* Only Tiger Woods, who was 21 years, 5 months and 17 days old when he first reached the pinnacle on June 15, 1997, got to the summit faster. 

* He's parked on a hot seat, to be sure. McIlroy is the fourth different player and fourth European to be ranked No. 1 since England's Lee Westwood supplanted Woods as No. 1 on Oct. 31, 2010. In this particular span, Woods held the position for 281 weeks in succession. 

* Of the 16 players to be ranked No. 1 since the ranking was first formulated, McIlroy is the eighth European and first from Northern Ireland. Only four Americans have topped the list -- Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, David Duval and Woods. 

* With his victory at the Honda Classic, McIlroy nudges aside England's Luke Donald, who held the No. 1 position for 40 weeks, the seventh-highest total number of weeks at the top since the OWGR began. Donald took over on May 29, 2011. 

* His dinner-table chatter just took a turn for the better. McIlroy and his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, have both been ranked No. 1 in their respective fields of battle.
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 4:14 pm
 

Fans downright neighborly to Woods at Honda

Tiger Woods tees off at the Honda Classic on Friday. (Getty)

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Tiger Woods took some time to meet his new neighbors on Friday morning.

Maybe a few too many at once.

After starting the second round of the Honda Classic a bit too close to the projected cutline, Woods birdied the last two holes for a 2-under 68 and survived to play the weekend at his new hometown event.

Thanks to the help of some friends.

Playing for the first time in the tournament since relocating to the area, Woods has drawn the area's biggest throngs since host Jackie Gleason and Jack Nicklaus were wowing 'em at Inverrary. They used to call Gleason the Great One, sort of like with Woods himself. 

Well, on Friday, Woods definitely kept 'em entertained, particularly on the back nine, when he was repeatedly getting up close and personal with the Palm Beach denizens and snowbirds. Slogging along and doing next to nothing at a snooze-inducing even-par overall, Woods pulled out his new 2-iron and tried to carve one into the fairway from the fourth tee, his 13th of the day.

Instead, he fanned it into the gallery, where it hit Brad Merriman of West Palm Beach directly on top of the noggin on the fly, leaving a small welt. Merriman, apparently a pretty tough guy, never went down, and the ball actually caromed another 30 yards toward the green, as though it had landed on a cart path.

"You should have heard the sound," said a man standing next to Merriman along the ropes.

Sorta like a coconut falling out of a tree? Woods autographed a glove and slipped it to Merriman, then laced a shot from the rough to within 6 feet for birdie. But the wild stretch was just getting started.

Instead of using the positive bounce as a springboard, Woods yanked his next shot on the par-3 fifth into the water and made a double bogey, then shoved his tee shot on the sixth into the trees, not far from where his mother, Tida, was stationed with his youngest child, Charlie, who was attending his first tournament.

Well, peeking out from under a Pebble Beach, the kid got to see his old man hard at work, for sure.

Woods got up and down to save par at No. 6 as a man fainted along the gallery ropes, perhaps 30 feet away, sending security scrambling for a few anxious moments. Right about then, coincidentally or not, Woods finally seemed to get his swing grooved.

"After that tee shot on 6, I was wondering, 'Why was I doing what I was doing?'" he said. "Unfortunately, it took me about 14 warm-up holes to figure it out and then I got it going at the end."

Woods, who had another middling day on the greens, three-jacking from the fringe on the third hole for a par, wrestled in birdies from 6 and 11 feet on the last two holes to establish some momentum heading to the weekend.

Well, maybe. He was seven shots off the lead as the leaders played their second rounds Friday afternoon.

"It was a grind," he said. "I didn't really have it today, but I scored. That's something I can take out of the round. I know I putted a lot better today. Finally got putts to the hole, and that was kind of the goal today was not to leave one putt short.

"I wasn't quite successful at it, but that was certainly what I was trying to do."

As is usually the case whenever Woods plays someplace where fans have never before seen him live, he's been cheered at every turn by his new neighbors.

"I mean, this is incredible to play in front of my new hometown," he said. "The people have been absolutely fantastic, so supportive, and really nice, positive things out there."

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 8:07 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 12:16 pm
 

With win, McIlroy at one with the world

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- All of a sudden, as he looked at the scoreboard, his future flashed before him.

OK, so he might not get there this week, but the possibility certainly exists, thanks to the first-round results at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was on the course Wednesday afternoon when he saw a leaderboard which noted that world No. 1 Luke Donald had been upset in the opening round. That creates the very real possibility that, with a victory tis week, the 22-year-old U.S. Open champ could ascend to the rankings top spot with a victory Sunday.

God bless McIlroy, who freely admitted that he will use the ranking as a motivational carrot the rest of the way -- and there are another five matches he must win -- to climb to the highest rung in the game.  Many players would not allow themselves to think about it, much less discuss it, openly.

Donald was drilled by Ernie Els, 5 and 4, while McIlroy won his match, 2 up, against a surprisingly resilient George Coetzee.

You gotta love anybody who begins a sentence in this overly-protective, mind-games era with the words, "to be honest." Which is exactly what McIlroy did when I asked him about becoming numero uno.

"To be honest, I came in here yesterday and talked about if I play well and just win matches, that will take care of itself," he said. "But obviously, it's another incentive waking up each morning and knowing that if you win your match at the end of that day, at the end of the week you could be world No. 1.

"I saw the result on one of the scoreboards on No. 17, I think. So, yeah, we'll see what happens. I have to get through a lot of matches before that, but it definitely gives me an added incentive this week."

McIlroy, who rejoined the PGA Tour for 2012, could become the fourth player in a year to climb to the top spot, joining Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Donald.

We'll see how McIlroy feels if the media asks him about the No. 1 ranking for the next four days in succession, but for now, he doesn't believe it will be a distration. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"I think, if anything, it gives you just a little bit of extra motivation, especially if you find yourself maybe a couple down through five or six holes that you say to yourself, come on, you've got to win this thing or you've got to win this match to give yourself a chance [at No. 1], at least.

"So in that way you can use it to your advantage, as well."

Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:25 pm
 

Match play to remain in 'Zona, but where?

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- The Dove Mountain course was designed, explicitly, with match play in mind.

So when players basically deemed the host venue for this week's Accenture Match Play Championship as the second-worst course on the PGA Tour, it had to sting.

The venue's contract to host the tournament expires after this week, and depending on your personal view, it might come as mixed news that signs point toward the mega-money event staying put.

"Right now, we're heading in the direction of keeping it here," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday morning.

GolfWorld magazine last month ranked the courses in recent use on the tour and the Jack Nicklaus design finished ahead of one other venue, the critically savaged Liberty National course, which has hosted exactly one tour event.

So, in other words, the Dove Mountain course finished dead last among courses in annual use in tour competition.

The primary beef with players is that the greens are far too severe, as evidenced by the humorous exchange that Rory McIlroy this week recounted after he ran into Nicklaus at a South Florida shopping mall.

"He asked me what I thought of this golf course and I said it was great," McIlroy said, choosing the next few words very carefully.

"He asked me about the greens, and I went, 'they are okaaaay,'" McIlroy said, drawing laughs.

He made the point without underscoring it. The course is also located about 30 minutes from central Tucson at about 3,000 feet of elevation, whcih can cause issues when the weather changes. It snowed and hailed during the match-play finale last year. Fan attendance at the venue, which is tough to walk because of its proximity to the mountains, has been decent at best.

David Pillsbury, the tour's executive vice president of Championship Management, which runs the event, said there would be no announcement about the future fate of the site until after the tournament ends.

"We'll see how it goes, see what the attendance looks like, all that," Pillsbury said.

That said, Pillsbury strongly indicated that despite indications of the contrary, the event won't migrate far -- either in terms of geography or the calendar. The Associated Press, citing two tour sources, said there have been discussions about moving the match-play championship to Harding Park in San Francisco and slotting it in October as part of the revamped fall start to the season. According the the AP, the two sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations. Both stressed that the option was in the early stages of consideration.

"It'll be in this market and in this time frame," Pillsbury said Wednesday.

For how long?

Posted on: February 22, 2012 9:54 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 10:44 am
 

FedEx re-ups for 5 years and even more dinero

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Crossing another massive item off his to-do list, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem on Wednesday announced that the mega-money FedEx Cup competition has been extended through 2017 and will include gradual increases in paydays for players.

Speaking for the players on tour: Cha-ching.

At minimum, the extension is worth $175 million based on current sponsorship level of $35 annually toward the pot of golfing gold delivered to players at the end of the financial rainbow. The winner under the current deal receives $10 million at the FedEx finale in Atlanta, one of the biggest paydays in all of sports.

"We're delighted with the opportunity to make this announcement,"' Finchem said, moments before the Accenture Match Play event began at Dove Mountain. "That's become a big part of what the PGA Tour is all about."

Impressively, in the past five months, the tour has secured lucrative and long-term deals with broadcasters CBS and NBC, signed Finchem to a four-year deal, and pushed the FedEx deal along for another five seasons.

Better still, the $10 million paid out to the FedEx winner will almost certainly increase over the coming phase, as will the cash for others in the season-long points derby.

"We will have some growth," Finchem said. "We'll continue to go forward, not backward, in this term."

FedEx quickly jumped on board with the proposal to blow up the existing calendar, start the season in the fall in 2013 and make over the Nationwide/Q-school process as well. That would bring the current Fall Series events into the fold as FedEx series stops, which they currently are not, though it would create a wraparound season similar to the NBA or NHL.

"We're verity pleased with the decision to extend the season," said Mike Glenn, the FedEx marketing chief.

That's not a done deal just yet, Finchem cautioned. The tour Policy Board must sign off on the huge seasonal makeover next month during a meeting March 19 at Bay Hill.

"Clearly it makes the FedEx Cup bigger," Finchem said of the proposal.

Despite seemingly annual criticism of the confusing FedEx points system, Glenn said to company is happy with the current design, given the way the pat few tour finales have played out.

"I can only point to the last two years when we literally felt the winner changed shot by shot on Sunday, which is what the experts would really like to have happen every year," Glenn said. "The drama that plays itself out now at the Tour Championship, and particularly on Sunday, when literally the winner hangs in the balance of the very next shot, that is probably best illustrated by Bill Haas' shot out of the water on No. 17.

"I don't know how much more drama we can get. I think the changes in the point system have really contributed to that. Are there opportunities to improve it further? Perhaps. But we're pretty pleased with where it is right now. "

We're not talking about drama, per se, but clarity, but we'll save that critique for the fall.

As for what's next on his work menu, Finchem laughed. At this point, with the 2013 seasonal makeover seemingly moving toward a conclusion, the biggest items have been crossed off. He still needs some sponsors in selected events and an umbrella sponsor for the Nationwide Tour. The insurance company's contract ends after this season is concluded.

"I'll be happy to lay out for you six or eight key things that are going to dominate a lot of my time over the next two or three years," he laughed.

Posted on: February 21, 2012 6:45 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 10:47 am
 

Bradley's great expectorations have fans in froth

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Spitting in sports has been around as long as chewing tobacco, pressure situations, big money and nervous individuals.

But rarely in golf has a player run more quickly afoul of the etiquette police than did Keegan Bradley last weekend in Los Angeles.

Playing in the marquee pairing at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, the promising second-year pro was nervously unleashing a steady stream of spittle and taking several awkward moments to hit shots as he eventually lost in a three-man playoff with Phil Mickelson and winner Bill Haas.

In contention down the stretch, the network cameras focused several times on Bradley's face with tight shots as he reeled off a string of fidgety, rapid-fire spit. This being his 14th month on the PGA Tour, his mind was otherwise occupied with trying to beat seasoned pros like Lefty and Haas.

Almost immediately, his Twitter account went into overload as fans, and even a network broadcaster from the U.K., took him to task for both his unattractive spitting and dawdling, slow play.

"I am kind of glad I don’t have this week off, because Twitter can be brutal," he said Tuesday.

After watching the final-round replay on Sunday night, the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year issued an apology and reiterated Tuesday that the spitting was an unwitting habit he picked up at some point in recent months. He received his trophy for the top-rookie honors Tuesday at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where both his spitting and lengthy pre-shot routine were questioned, just like they were by viewers who sent him some pointed social-media missives.

"I got pounded pretty good," said Bradley, 25. "But that's how Twitter works."

The treatment seems a bit harsh, really. Bradley, already ranked 19th in the world, has played in exactly one major championship and is just getting his feet wet on the big tour. But at this level, he understands that he's expected to set an example.

Or, if he didn't know before, he knows it now.

"I feel bad," he said. "It's something I am going to work on and I ask everybody to kind of bear with me as I go through with this, because it's something I have done without even knowing it."

While he was reeling off the lung cheese in fast succession, the rapidity of his shots was another matter entirely. He was less apologetic about the pace-of-play issue, which seemed to rankle at least as many viewers. Down the stretch at Riviera, he repeatedly stepped toward the ball, then backed off shots, a move similar to that of J.B. Holmes, a notorious tour slowpoke when under the gun.

"It's about visualization, my way of staying not stagnant," Bradley said. "It is a little different. I will take a look at that again. But it's something that I've been doing and it's been working.

"Coming down the stretch, it does come up a little bit. But it doesn’t seem to affect my ability, which is the most important."

Since the start of his rookie season in 2011, which includes wins at Byron Nelson and PGA Championship, Bradley said he has never been put on the clock for slow play.

"I am very much into not hitting it until -- if I'm walking in and I have a bad thought, I'll come back out. I see a lot of players hit shots when they’re thinking, 'don’t hit this in the water, or, 'don't hook this over there.'

"I'm not going to go until I'm ready, until I know I'm going to hit a good shot."

The Great Expectorations blowback has, at least temporarily, obscured the Great Expectations of Bradley's short tenure on tour. He's already shot the low 72-hole score three times and has fast developed a hunger for the spotlight.

Unlike many who blink, the klieg lights didn't bother him at all. Playing alongside Mickelson at the storied 18th at Riviera, one of the great finishing holes in the sport, was something he described as "surreal."

In fact, it's exactly the unquantifiable "something" that separates prime-time players from their average Joe counterparts. Bradley can't wait to get back under competitive duress, which could very well happen this week.

You know how to tell that this kid is different? Most guys could not have mustered an ounce of spittle in that situation, much less a steady stream.

"To be part of history and to be in a Sunday [duel] with Phil or Tiger and hang in there is somethng I have always wondered if I could do," he said. "And I did it, which makes me feel very good."

Posted on: February 21, 2012 3:20 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 3:45 pm
 

Tiger Woods responds to 'beatable' comments

Tiger Woods talks to the media. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling


MARANA, Ariz. -- It hasn't taken long for golf's admittedly rather polite version of trash talking to commence at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, site of the 2012 Accenture Match Play event. 

Either way, because it relates to former world No.1 Tiger Woods, people have taken notice.

First it was the Wednesday opponent of Woods, speaking about the former champion, admitting, "I think [Tiger'] beatable." It didn't take long for Woods to respond to Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano's comments about his golf game, giving the five-time European Tour winner a taste of his own medicine. 

Smirked Woods on Tuesday, relating to the remarks of the guy nicknamed Gonzo: "I feel exactly the same way he does. I think he's beatable."

Woods said there was a day when smack lit a fire under his posterior. That's not so much the case anymore. After all, given what has transpired the past two years, he's doubtlessdly got a thicker skin. He even self-edited a comment when he compared opinions to a certain anatomical area.

"As I've matured and gone beyond that, it's just an opinion, it's their own opinion," he said. "Everyone has a (pause) 'hole,' and it's just like that."

The self-censorship generated a pretty good laugh, since everybody got the point without the actual profanity.

"That's kind of how I look at it, it's their prerogative, it's their opinion," he said. "What matters is how I go out and play and how I'm progressing in my game.  At the end of the day when I'm retired, I think I will have mastered a pretty good record."

Woods is a three-time event champion, also a former runner-up, and has a 32-8 mark in the Accenture, far and away the most wins of anybody in tournament history. In 11 tries, only twice has Woods been upset in the first round.

Woods is seeded fifth in his bracket and the Spaniard is seeded 12th. 

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