Friday, July 29, 2011

Tiger Adds PGA Championship To Schedule

   Following on the announcement that he will play in the WGC event next week at Firestone -- where he's won seven times -- Tiger Woods has also committed to play in the PGA Championship.

   As for the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, well, that's still a stretch.

   I'll admit to being surprised when I heard Woods was coming back next week, especially since a day earlier his swing coach, Sean Foley, said he hadn't seen his star pupil in a while. There had been photos of Woods with his kids on his boat but there was no hint golf was around the corner.

   Woods said he would let the doctors tell him when he could play again so it's fair to assume he's good to go. But there's a difference in being healthy and being fully ready to play.

   What to expect from Woods next week?

   He conditioned us to expect brilliance but he'll be a curiosity at Firestone. Other than nine holes at The Players Championship three months ago, he's been invisible, fired his caddie and had more questions raised about whether he can be Tiger Woods again on the course.

   He's 133rd in FedEx Cup points right now which means he isn't currently eligible for the playoffs. That's not to say he puts great emphasis on the playoffs but if he feels well enough to play, he needs to be eligible for a series of strong events.

   For weeks, we've been waiting and wondering when we'd see Tiger again. The waiting is almost over. But the wondering...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grobe Has His Moment At Pinehurst No. 2

  Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe is a 13-handicapper whose best score on the golf course was 75.

   Until Sunday.

   That's when Grobe, in Pinehurst for the ACC's annual preseason football kickoff gathering, shot 1-under par 71 on Pinehurst No. 2.

   Grobe joked that he would tell his athletic director, Ron Wellman, it was a nine-hole score but it wasn't. Grobe played with some bowl representatives and the only gimme he got was a two-footer his playing partners knocked back to him.

  Asked which was the bigger thrill, leading Wake Forest to an ACC title and Orange Bowl appearance or breaking par on No. 2, Grobe naturally chose the football achievement.

  Still, it was quite a golf achievement for the dean of ACC football coaches.

   "We've got a better shot of winning the league than of me doing that," Grobe said.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tiger and Stevie: Perfect fit in a now-imperfect world

   If you're keeping a ledger on the Tiger Woods saga, it became necessary Wednesday to add caddie Steve Williams' name to the cuts, departures, changes or whatever you want to call all the things that were once part of Tiger's world and are no longer.

   Add Williams to a list that includes Woods' former wife, Elin, his former swing coach Hank Haney, his former sponsors including Accenture, Tag Heuer and Gatorade, his former management company IMG, and now, his former caddie.

   Was it inevitable that Woods and Williams would part?

   Obviously, it was since Woods told Stevie two weeks ago that he could turn his part-time gig with Adam Scott into a full-time job. Williams said in a statement the move was "a shock" and later said in various interviews that he expected more from Woods given what he'd been forced to deal with as his employer embarrassed himself, and the endless aftermath that followed.

   Woods and Williams seemed a perfect fit. Williams was the tough guy on Tiger's bag, an enforcer of sorts who often had to play that role given the enormous attention Woods draws every time he steps onto a golf course. Williams wasn't concerned with winning friends, but about winning tournaments and doing his job properly.

   A player-caddie relationship can be a delicate thing. Some players churn through caddies, their personal quirks or insecurities rubbing against each other to add to the pressure that comes with playing the game for a living. Others find a partnership that goes on for years, like Phil Mickelson and Jim "Bones" Mackay or Fred Couples and Joe LaCava.

   Williams helped Woods through the years. He didn't hit the shots but he was there every step of the way, whether it was during the Tiger Slam or when he gave Woods a shoulder to cry on after winning the Open Championship following his father's death. Stevie had the authority to call Woods off a shot at the last second, an authority he used from time to time.

   Williams will be fine with Scott and, perhaps, happier to be out from under the umbrella of scrutiny that follows Wood wherever he goes.

   As for Woods himself, the questions remain. Who's next on his bag?

   The speculation immediately ran to Billy Foster, Lee Westwood's man, and LaCava, who's now working for Dustin Johnson. Given Woods' penchant for privacy, he's not likely to drop any public clues on his plans until they're announced on his website.

    Though he hasn't been able to play and there's no indication when he'll be back, the Tiger story continues to churn. Woods has kept to himself, offering only a glimpse or two such as his recent appearance at the AT&T National press conference.

   It has never been Woods' way to go public with what he's thinking beyond the basic "I'm here to win" golf tournament quotes. It's not his nature and that's not likely to change.

   For years, all the talk was about what Tiger had achieved. Now, it's about all he has lost.

   Until he returns and wins again -- something I believe he'll do because he will be incredibly driven to prove his detractors wrong -- that's not going to change.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tiger, Stevie Split; "Came As A Shock," Caddie Says

   Tiger Woods announced today that Steve Williams is no longer his caddie, ending their long relationship.

    The news, announced on Woods' website, didn't come as a complete surprise given Williams' recent working relationship with Adam Scott but it's another major change in Woods' career. Woods said he feels it's time for a change.

   "I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but i think it's time for a change," Woods said on his website. "Stevie is an outstanding caddie and a friend and has been instrumental in many of my accomplishments. I wish him great success in the future."

   Woods did not say who will be his caddie in the future when he returns to competitive golf. Woods has not played since withdrawing from The Players Championship in May while dealing with knee and Achilles issues. He has not indicated when he will return to the PGA Tour.

   With Woods sidelined, Williams began working for Scott at the U.S. Open last month and has stayed with the Australian star. He was surprised by the split with Woods.

   "Following the completion of the AT&T National (two weeks ago), I am no longer caddying for Tiger after he informed me that he needed to make a change," Williams said in a statement on his own website.

   "After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries, I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time.

   "I have had the opportunity to work with Australian Adam Scott and will now caddy for him on a permanent basis."

Pinehurst Unveils New Logos For 2014 Opens

    It's still almost three years away but the unprecedented back-to-back U.S. Opens at Pinehurst Resort in 2014 already have their own look.

   The resort recently unveiled three logos -- one for the men's Open, one for the Women's Open, and one for both Opens -- that are now available on merchandise at the resort. It's all part of branding the event, which is certain to attract plenty of attention when first the men and then women play their national championships at the restored No. 2.

   The men's logo features the familiar Golf Lad hugging the U.S. Open trophy while the Women's Open logo features a cardinal and the Carolina Hotel.

   The dual logo features both trophies along with the Golf Lad's hat and the cardinal. It won't be long until you start seeing the logos on shirts and other items.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Simpson Heading Home On A High

   SANDWICH, England -- Not entirely sure what he would need in his first Open Championship experience, Webb Simpson packed three suitcases for his weeklong stay alongside the English Channel.

   He also brought his wife, Dowd, their five-month old son, James, and a friend to stay in the house he rented in town.

   Simpson left Royal St. George's and the Open Sunday evening with a top-20 finish and a deeper appreciation for the different style of golf demanded by true links.

   "Overall, it was a great experience," said Simpson, who shot 73 on Sunday to finish at 5-over par 285. "I realized how much there is to learn.

   "But it's fun golf. It was a battle the last two days. I must have taken my rain jacket on and off 10 times (Sunday) but I'm pleased."

S   impson said it struck him that he wasn't eligible for the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour in March but now he's played in two major championships, making the cut in both. He's also 11th on the PGA Tour money list and points standings with the playoffs approaching.

  The week at St. George's did nothing to hurt Simpson's confidence.

   There are still some things Simpson needs to learn for his return trip to the Open Championship. He didn't drive while in England.

   "I was a little too scared to do that," Simpson said. "I felt like everybody would get sideswiped."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Johnson, Fowler Playing For Old Glory And Their Own Glory

   In a golf sense, Northern Ireland is kicking the United States' collective rear end.

   Last year, Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open. This year, Rory McIlroy did it. That makes it Ulstermen 2, Uncle Sam 0.

    But with 18 holes remaining in the Open Championship at Royal St. George's, Americans have a chance to win their first major championship since Phil Mickelson picked up his third green jacket 15 months ago at Augusta National.

   There are 10 Americans among the top 16 in the Open. That's the good news.

    The bad news is third-round leader Darren Clarke is from Northern Ireland, too. Same song. Different verse.

    But the U.S. has two of its best players -- Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler -- sitting right behind Clarke. We keep talking and hearing about how much promise they have. Now it's time for one of them to deliver.

    Johnson starts one back of Clarke and seems the most capable of doing something spectacular on Sunday given his length and his famliarity with final-round major championship pressure. This will be the third time in the last six majors that Johnson has played in the final pairing on Sunday.

   He's been fighting a sore throat this week but he's gradually feeling better. He's also stayed largely under the radar. Can he win?


   So can Fowler, who has seemed at home at St. George's. He played beautifully Saturday in the wind and rain. He hasn't won yet, which raises questions but Fowler seems like a big-moment player. Look at the Ryder Cup last year.

   It may not matter what either Johnson or Fowler does in the final round. Clarke may play better than either of them. So might Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn or someone else.

    But if they're all we've been saying they are, one of them can prove it on Sunday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Simpson Struggles In Second Round, Still Likes His Position

   Webb Simpson walked off Royal St. George's golf course early Friday afternoon, having just posted a 4-over 74 in the second round that didn't seem all that different from the 66 he shot a day earlier.

   Still, Simpson had fallen from one shot off the lead to four behind when he finished with half the field still on the course.

   "I played hardly any different," Simpson said. "It was one of those days where if we were between clubs, we always chose the wrong one or we figured the wind wrong. It was just frustrating because it felt like I played good."

   A day after playing a bogey-free round, Simpson failed to make a birdie in the second round despite sunny conditions with manageable wind. His big mistake came at the par-4 fourth hole where he made a double-bogey after hitting his drive into heavy rough. He played his second back to the fairway, missed the green from relatively short range with his third and missed a seven-foot bogey putt.

   "We (caddie Paul Tesori) were talking on the 18th hole and decided we're not going to change anything for Saturday," Simpson said. "We're still in a great place."

   As for predictions for strong wind and potentially heavy rain on Saturday, Simpson was undaunted.

   "I don't mind it," he said. "I feel like I stay patient pretty well. Then again, it was perfect (Thursday) and I played really well."

The Big Yellow Scoreboard, An Open Tradition

   One of the many cool things about the Open Championship is the giant yellow scoreboard that stands sentry over the 18th gren at whereever the event is played, a landmark as familiar to golf fans as the Hogan bridge on the 12th hole at Augusta National.

   It's a testament to tradition rather than technology, its information passed by hand through letters and numbers, rather than via LED readouts. The closest thing to new technology on the big board is a Rolex clock that gives the time in the timeless manner that only a Rolex can.

   The leader board is posted by hand, which means it takes a few moments to rearrange things when someone runs up or down the board. Not only does it post where the leaders stand against par, it tells fans how many holes they've played in the tournament rather than in their round. Lucas Glover, for example, was 4-under par through 34 holes Friday then safely parred in to saty there.

   It lists the pairing currently playing the hole and the next pairing in case you've dropped your pairing sheet while traipsing through the dunes.

   And, at the end of each Open, there's a message congrulating the champion golfer of the year and promising to see everyone again next year, which in 2012 means Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Not everyone at Royal St. George's will be back for the championship next year but the big yellow scoreboard will be there.

  Like always.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Royal St. George's Turning Into Clemson Country

   Standing on the 14th tee at Royal St. George's Thursday afternoon, Lucas Glover and playing partner Robert Karlsson looked at each other and asked the same question:

   Where had the wind gone?

   The breeze that had given the Open Championship its bite died in the afternoon and Glover was among the players to take advantage, birdieing the last three holes to shoot a 4-under par 66 that left him one stroke behind co-leaders Thomas Bjorn and amateur Tom Lewis.

   "It's good," Glover, the former Clemson golfer and reigning Wells Fargo Championship winner, said of his leap up the leader board. "It's where you want to be but you want to be there on Sunday. We've got three more days to do it."

   With virtually no wind as Glover finished, he was able to be aggressive going into the greens, setting up a three-foot birdie putt at No. 16; a two-footer at the 17th; and, a 16-footer at the finishing hole.

  "Overall solid and then some fireworks at the end," Glover said of his day.

   Another former Tiger, Kyle Stanley wasn't in the Open until he finished solo second last week at the John Deere Classic, earning him a spot in the field at St. George's and a seat on the charter flight to England.

   The 23-year old tour rookie was smart enough to have packed his passport when he went to Illinois last week but didn't pack his warm clothes for the English summer. He was forced to hit the club pro shop to buy a long-sleeve turtleneck and he's taken advantage of the laundry service at the bed and breakfast where he's staying in nearby Dover to have clean clothes.

   Other than a 2007 Walker Cup appearance in Northern Ireland and a trip to Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Stanley has no real links experience.

   Stanley had made 15 of 20 cuts this season and he's playing his best golf of the year since Bobby Brown, Dustin Johnson's former caddie, went to work for him in June. He has let Brown set his practice schedule -- even on off weeks -- and the focus has been on Stanley's short game and putting.

   "I've made a lot of cuts this year but I hadn't put four good rounds together until last week," Stanley said. "I'm just trying to keep learning and keep getting better. I really, really care about what I do out on the course. Sometimes, I care to a fault."

At Sandwich, A Big Event In A Small Place

   If you're wondering precisely where this Open Championship is being played, it's where one extremely narrow road feeds into another extremely narrow road on the edge of Sandwich, just a wind-blown tee shot from the tiny town of Deal.

   The course -- Royal St. George's -- sits alongside the English Channel but you can't see the water from the course because they were forced to build a seawall that blocks the view but, fortunately, keeps the highest tides from overrunning the place. The course is the middle of three lined up along the Channel with Royal Cinque Ports to the south and Princes to the north, each of them close enough to the other that Walter Hagen once played all three -- walking -- in the same day.

    Cinque Ports, I can say from experience, is a tremendous links that, with a couple hundred yards added to the front nine, could host an Open championship. It's that good.

   The Royal & Ancient, which determines where Open Championships are played, is reluctant to add to its nine-course rotation but there's a movement afoot to add Royal Portrush or Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. They are, by all accounts, two of the great tracks in the world but the R&A is concerned about access, pointing to a lack of roads around Portrush as a problem.

   They obviously haven't driven the cart paths, I mean roads, around St. George's where two-way traffic is impossible for anything but bicycles. It's charming, weaving among the homes and shops that sit so close to the road that you could swipe a scone as you pass, but if they can hold an Open at St. George's, taking one to the edge of Belfast shouldn't be a problem.

   Among the things St. George's has that other sites don't is an abandoned power plant, currently being decsonstructed, with three enormous cooling towers looming in the distance like that hill in 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.' There's also a Pfizer pharmaceutical factory where they are thought to make popular blue pills just a mile from the course.

   It's where the old world and the new one meet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting Fleeced At The Open Championship

   I know that it's miserably hot in Charlotte right now -- it is the middle of July after all -- but it's a little brisk here at the Open Championship at Royal St. George's.

   You're looking for air-conditioning. I'm looking for fleece.

   It's about 60 degrees, the sky is the color of 70-year old hair and the wind is blowing white caps on the English Channel. In other words, perfect for the Open Championship.

   It's tomato sandwich season at home. It's tomato soup season here.

  That's the way it's supposed to be when the golf world convenes for the Open. Augusta does azaleas. The U.S. Open does rough. The Open Championship does weather.

   There's something almost glamorous about the wind and the clouds and the chill, especially if you're not trying to hit a fairway that moves like a Slinky. The Open Championship does many things but it doesn't do sweat stains.

   That's not to say it can't get warm here. It can get toasty but clouds are never far away, promising a respite from the sunshine.

    In playing golf over here, I've learned that it's okay to wear shorts but not the little ankle socks that are part of most American golf ensembles. Two clubs I've visited require golfers who wear shorts to also wear knee socks similar to the type required for girls at some private schools.

   Perhaps that's why so few of the locals play golf in shorts. That and the fear of a suntan.

   Good thing I left my shorts in Charlotte. I needed the sweatshirts instead.



Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Five Favorite Golf Events

   Having made another journey to the British Open this week -- it's become something of a summer present to myself -- it got me to thinking about my favorite golf events, and I'm not talking about the occasional birdie I make.

   Here are my five favorites:

  1. The Masters

    No surprise here. It's the best golf tournament in the world when you roll everything together -- the course, the history, the time of year, the feeling, the pimento cheese sandwiches and the green jackets. It's special enough that even non-golfers take a few minutes to look in on the azaleas in April.

   Almost without fail, the Masters finds a way to generate drama like no other tournament can consistently do. In the dead of summer, it makes me wish for the yellow sheen of pine pollen, Phil Mickelson going at the 13th green with his second shot and those big white hand-operated scoreboards that are better than anything computer-generated.

 2. The Ryder Cup

   Because it happens only every other year, it allows the storyline to twist and build until we all make more of it than we probably should but it still manages to deliver spectacular stories.

   Golf is a solitary pursuit but put into a team concept with flags and continental pride at stake, it matters like nothing else.

   And every decade or so, the Americans win.

3. The Open Championship

   Growing up, watching the slightly fuzzy television images from the Open Championship, it seemed so romantic -- in a golf kind of way. The wind, the knee-high fescue, the funny bounces, the dunes, the shots of the sea, the sweaters -- all of it captured my imagination and holds on to it today.

   It's probably the most important tournament in the world outside the United States and given our current standing in the world game, it only enhances the Open's stature.

   When it's played at the Old Course, it's magic -- even when Louis Oosthuizen wins by about 25 shots. When it's played somewhere else, even at Royal St. George's which hasn't inspired the poet's soul in many historians, it's a week that feels as different it looks to most of us.

  4. The Wells Fargo Championship

   A decade ago, we didn't have a PGA Tour event in Charlotte. Now people are fretting over what could happen if it's not renewed after the current contract expires in 2014. It's become special which many things try to be but few actually are.

   The annual springtime week at Quail Hollow Club has created its own niche in both Charlotte and in professional golf. It's our good fortune to have it in our city.

  5. The Heritage

    Rory McIlroy's victory at the U.S. Open may be the biggest win on the PGA Tour this year but landing a five-year title sponsorship agreement with RBC and Boeing to keep the tournament alive at Harbour Town Golf Links is on the list of biggest victories in 2011.

   It's a golf tournament scented with springtime, sunscreen and the good life. You're likely to see a gator sunning along a fairway and you might see Ernie Els riding bikes with his family around the island. It's a cocktail party with a golf tournament in the middle, all of it framed by Spanish moss and the Calibogue Sound. 


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Free Golf At Cheraw State Park On July 16

   Looking to play free golf on a good course with no strings attached?

   Here's your chance.

   Cheraw (S.C.) State Park is offering free golf and cart fees on its championship course on Saturday, July 16 to the first 60 players who sign up.

   It's a 90-minute drive from Charlotte and reservations must be made in advance. The cost is typically $35 per player which means a saving of $140 for a foursome.

   The course, which has a good reputation, plays 6,928 yards from the back tees with a slope rating of 130.

   There will also be a TaylorMade demo day at the course on July 16 and other discounts available in the pro shop and grill.

   Reservations can be made by calling 800-868-9630. Only one foursome per caller can be reserved and the spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tee times are available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Big Three Together Again: Player Joins Jack, Arnie At Augusta

   The 'Big Three' will be back together on the first tee at Augusta National next April.

   Gary Player has accepted an invitation to join Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as an honorary starter for the Masters tournament beginning in 2012.

   “For decades, Gary Player has been the international ambassador for the game of golf,” club chairman Billy Payne in a statement. “His significant accomplishments at the Masters, spread over an astounding 52 appearances, have helped form many lasting memories for fans of golf around the world. As an Honorary Starter, his legacy will be rightfully celebrated alongside two of the Tournament’s other all-time greats, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.”

   Player's inclusion into the select group comes as no surprise. He played in 52 Masters -- the most ever -- and his relationship with Nicklaus and Palmer made the pairing a natural. Player won three Masters and had 12 additional top 10 finishes.

   “I am thrilled to join my friends Jack and Arnold as an Honorary Starter,” Player said. “Augusta National is a special place that holds many memories for me. When I won my first Green Jacket in 1961, Arnold put it on my back. In 1962, Arnold beat me in an 18-hole playoff to win his second in three years. The year after my second win in 1974, Jack became the second man at the time to ever win four Masters. I was there to put the Green Jacket on both of them. Moments like those are so special and to be able to experience those memories with friends and competitors is something I will never forget.”

   In one stretch -- from 1960 through 1966 -- Palmer, Nicklaus and Player won all seven Masters.

No Surprise: Woods Out Of British Open

   It came as no surprise today that Tiger Woods announced he will miss the British Open next week while continuing to deal with knee and Achilles issues.

   "Unfortunately, I've been advised that I should not play in the British Open," Woods said in a statement on his website. "As I stated at the AT&T National, I am only going to come back when I'm 100 percent ready. I do not want to risk further injury. That's different for me, but I'm being smarter this time. I'm very disappointed and want to express my regrets to the British Open fans."

   It wasn't long ago we were talking about how dominant Woods might be when he reached his expected prime -- in his mid-30s -- but now it's all a mystery. Woods was right last week when he stressed that he's just 35, not 65, but it seems like forever since he's been the Tiger we came to know and take for granted.

   Will he back for the PGA Championship next month in Atlanta?

   Only time will tell.

Beyond The Fourth: Rory, Morgan Pressel and More

   With the Fourth of July behind us and the Open Championship a week away, a few observations on the game today:
   -- The Rory McIlroy lovefest resumes next week at Royal St. George's where he'll make his first competitive appearance since scorching the field in the U.S. Open.
   McIlroy is the betting favorite -- what, you thought Bubba Watson would be? -- but Royal St. George's is known for its quirky nature which could throw an added element of uncertainty, okay, let's call it luck, into the championship.
    It's not a course that's at the top of many favorites list when it comes to layouts in the Open rota. It's nearer the bottom of most lists, but the Open almost always produces good drama, last year being the exception.
   Can an American win?
   Stranger things have happened. Ben Curtis won at Royal St. George's eight years ago.
  -- Yani Tseng is the obvious player to beat in the U.S. Women's Open this week but I'm hoping Morgan Pressel wins.
    Pressel has been a very good player for several years and she's worked to hit the ball longer, her major challenge. A Women's Open title is big for anyone but it seems as if it it might be even bigger for Pressel.
  -- I'm looking forward to reading 'The Swinger,' co-written by Michael Bamberger and Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated. It's a fictionalized version of Tiger's tale and it's getting good reviews. Check out Ron Green Sr.'s review at
   -- Jack Fields' victory in the North & South Amateur last weekend at Pinehurst No. 2 had a good feel to it, given the fact he's from Southern Pines. He's preparing to turn pro and winning at Pinehurst reinforced his decision.
   It was the first major event played at No. 2 since the restoration by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. While the greens were slower and softer than they ideally would be -- they're being very careful with the new grass through the summer -- the reviews were overwhelmingly positive about the course changes.