The veteran, a rookie and the luckiest shots in golf

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Paul Casey won the Valspar Championship on Sunday although it may have appeared from the amount of TV coverage that Tiger Woods was the winner. Nonetheless, Tiger did finish T2 and was realistically in contention. Comment on the current state of Tiger’s game, his attitude and the attention he gets from the fans and the media.

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): None of the attention was surprising… it’s as if Jesus has returned to save the world (which, in view of Doug Ford’s victory, doesn’t seem like a bad idea).  Tiger’s game looked like it did 10 years ago, and his body is one even Rory McIlroy would envy.  So I would say Tiger’s back, and a solid bet for Augusta.  And if it weren’t for Corey Conners, I would’ve been rooting for Tiger to win.  There, I admit it.  Now can we move on?

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I believe Tiger has an unannounced, personal development plan to build a champion golfer out of the ‘tools’ he currently has. Considering he has a different body (after back surgery) which causes him to swing differently, his age and his years away from the game are all making playing golf different for him.  As he plays, you can see him testing and examining every shot and situation trying to figure out how to best improve his game. He appears to be more interested in building a long term solution than a short term victory. His attitude is one of acceptance. He has come to terms with his poor publicity. He seems more mellow but still driven. The media have idolized him and rightly so; he pays a lot of bills! He is one of the top 5 players of all-time and during his career he has been one of the top athletes in all of sport of all-time!

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Like I said last week, his all-around game is looking very strong. But his accuracy off the tee is still holding him back. He was actually a little more accurate with his driver last week (59.6% compared to his season average of 48.96%) and not surprisingly, he almost won the event! And I must admit that I have been enjoying the positivity that he has been showing during, and after, every event. He’s not beating himself up (and having inappropriate outbursts) after poor shots, like he constantly used to do in the past and it’s refreshing to see him out there having a good time while he is competing.  As for the enormous amount of media attention that he receives, I’m totally fine with it — and you should be too! If you think that the vast majority of viewers are not solely tuning in to watch Tiger, then you need to get your head examined. At GolfTown this past weekend, everyone congregated around the televisions whenever Tiger was hitting and then dispersed the moment anyone else was shown…over and over again! Tiger Woods is televised golf. Get used to it.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): They showed a lot of Tiger, but let’s be honest, the TV numbers will be the highest ever for this event, and it’s not because Paul Casey and Corey Conners were in contention.  People (including me) were tuning in to see Tiger, so they had to show as much of him as they could.  It’s been a number of years since they could show Tiger on the weekend, so they need to get their money’s worth!  It was so encouraging that Tiger held it together through the weekend and didn’t throw the tournament away.  Sure he could have played better on Sunday, but he was right there and ultimately had a chance to get into a playoff.  I hope he continues to improve and blows the field away this week at Arnie’s event!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The last two winners are a combined age of 87, and Jordan Spieth has already missed more cuts in his brief career than Eldrick has in his seemingly endless one. So who knows any more? His performance at the Valspar was surprising (at least to me) and impressive. But as he has from day one, Eldrick still takes such a furious (unnecessary) swing at it that his surgeons must either be cringing or thinking they are one swing away from another big payday. Either way, each time he shows up the yahoos will be thronging and the media genuflecting, and real golf fans hitting the mute and fast forward buttons.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The Copperhead course was an ideal test for Tiger’s current game. It demands precision off the tee and into the green but doesn’t require a driver on many holes. As one of the best iron players in history with a short game to match, Tiger was able to sting his 2-iron down the middle and then fire at the pins. Tiger 2.0 looked more relaxed than earlier versions and he seemed to enjoy figuring his game out rather than being too mechanical. It got him in contention so all the attention was well deserved. He must be doing something right if both Deeks and I were pulling for him on Sunday.

Canadian Corey Conners led the Valspar for three rounds but shot 77 on Sunday to finish T16. Was leading the tournament a fluke or is Conners ready to break into the winner’s circle?

Deeks: What a pleasant surprise it would’ve been if Corey had come out and shot 68, even with Tiger breathing down his neck, and won.  But I think all of us, in our heart of hearts, knew it wasn’t likely.  Corey is not the first unknown leader to fold on a Sunday afternoon (remember Mike Weir’s final round 80 at the PGA Championship years ago?)… and he won’t be the last… so he shouldn’t hang his head in shame.  Instead, take from this the positive fact that he hung in for three rounds… that he has the game and the patience it takes.  Now he just needs a little more experience to withstand the assault on the nerves.

Schurman: Corey Conners looks terrific! He drives the ball incredibly well and made some fine putts. He might have won on Sunday but the media hype with Tiger playing well would have been more than enough for even the most experienced player to handle.

Kaplan: 54 holes of golf is no fluke! Conners is a ball-striking machine who has the skill set to win annually on the PGA Tour. But he is still very green, and it would not be very realistic to think that the rookie will not have some hiccups on his way to greatness. The fact that he had a chance to win the tournament on Sunday is amazing. However, it was his first time with a 54-hole lead and friggin’ Justin Rose, Tiger Woods, and Brandt Snedeker were chasing him down. That’s terrifying. So, I’m not surprised that he struggled and never really settled in during the finale. If I were in that situation, I probably would have had an anxiety attack on the driving range before the round.

Rule: It certainly wasn’t a fluke, Corey is a great player with great credentials, and he’ll win on tour at some point. This was his first taste of real tournament success and you can give him a pass for not playing well on Sunday.  It was very impressive that he shot such a good score on Saturday with all the attention on Tiger and the other big names.  That showed me something.  He may not win this year, but he has a bright future ahead of him, and it’s exciting as a Canadian golf fan!

Quinn: No fluke going 9-under after 54 holes on that course. That is some kind of game. The three-round confidence boost sure was tempered by Sunday’s harsh dose of reality. He may win someday, but from his 519th spot in the World Rankings, he’s still quite a ways from the circle.

Mumford: Not a fluke. Conners obviously has lots of talent.  You especially had to admire his demeanour. Leading Valspar for three rounds should be a big confidence booster but there are a couple of parts of his game that may warrant some attention before he’s ready to win. While he split the fairways and hit greens with great regularity, his short game showed some weakness when he had to get up and down to save par both from bunkers and the greenside rough. His lag putting was a little suspect too. Maybe both boil down to making more 6-10 footers but hitting it closer would help a lot. Chalk this one up to first time jitters but next time he’s in the last group, he’ll have something to draw on.

Most players will readily admit that in order to win a golf tournament on the PGA Tour, they have to play exceedingly well but also need a bit of luck. What’s the luckiest shot or occurrence you can recall that led to a player’s victory?

Deeks: Well, it’s way before everyone’s time, but Lew Worsham sunk a wedge shot to an elevated green in 1953, to win the World Championship of Golf and a stunning $25,000.  This was the first golf tournament ever broadcast live on television.  There have been several … Craig Parry holing out from 150 at Doral on the first playoff hole in 2004 certainly springs to mind.  (In fact, there’s an item called “Top 10 clutch hole-outs for victory on the PGA Tour” that you can watch on YouTube.)  To me, perhaps the all-time greatest shot ever made, that led to victory, was Bubba’s 155-yard hooked gap wedge on the first playoff hole at the 2012 Masters.  He sunk the 10-foot putt remaining to beat Louis Oosthuizen.  The shot was unbelievably skilled, and Bubba may be the only person who could ever have pulled it off; but the luck was that he had an open alley to fire through, from deep in the woods.  Still, watch the video and feel your jaw drop every time.

Schurman: From a Canadian point of view: that’s an easy one: Hale Irwin at Pebble Beach against Jim Nelford! Irwin’s ball landed in the ocean closer to Hawaii than North America, hit a rock and bounced back into the fairway and then he went on to win.

Kaplan: It has to be Angel Cabrera’s famous tree-trunk ricochet on the first playoff hole of the 2009 Masters. Without that bounce back onto the fairway, there is no way that he would go on to win that green jacket. Why don’t my golf balls ever take fortuitous hops when they hit tree trunks? It’s just not fair.

Rule: The one that immediately comes to mind when you talk of luck and winning a golf tournament is Fred Couples on the 12th at Augusta in 1992.  His tee shot came up short but somehow stuck on the steep slope without funnelling down into Rae’s Creek.  He got up and down and eventually won by 2.  He isn’t even sure how his ball stayed on that slope!

Quinn: This is definitely in the ‘occurrence’ category. Third hole of the 2000 PGA Championship playoff. Eldrick hits his drive “miles left” in Feherty’s description. The camera pans the trees and rough ( One steamboat, Two steamboats) and then the ball comes bounding into view — travelling back (way back) from where it landed.  In the booth Jim Nance was puzzled. The late great Ken Venturi speculated that a kid may have batted the ball, but nobody bats a golf ball, and no kid could propel the ball that far backwards with a hand slap. It gives him a shot. The luckless Bob May makes a 5, so does Eldrick to win by a stroke. The Tiger-loving PGA and CBS and the media never got to the bottom of one of golf’s most mysterious occurrences. Eldrick has 14 Majors. One should carry an asterisk.

Mumford: The first two that spring to mind are Irwin’s shot off the mermaid at Pebble Beach and Couple’s anti-gravity ball on the 12th at Augusta. But for pure luck, that maybe wanders into Twilight Zone territory, would be Tiger Woods’ tee shot on the 18th hole at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship – the third hole of a three-hole playoff against Bob May. Tiger was a stroke ahead after the first two holes but yanked his tee shot on 18 way left. Way, way, way left. It was headed to deep bush, trees, maybe even out-of-bounds. The announcers were sure it was gone and for a few seconds it was. Then it came rolling down a path to settle in a clear area where Tiger was able to make a shot and win the PGA Championship for the third leg of the Tiger Slam. Luck or foul play? Nobody’s talkin’.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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